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Warringah Aquatic Centre: 'Continuity of coaching' being considered after council backlack

NEW OPERATOR: Continuity of coaching is under consideration by Northern Beaches Council for the Warringah Aquatic Centre. Picture: Geoff Jones
NEW OPERATOR: Continuity of coaching is under consideration by Northern Beaches Council for the Warringah Aquatic Centre. Picture: Geoff Jones

Updated 1.15pm, Tuesday, November 

CONTINUITY of coaching is being considered at Warringah Aquatic Centre, after angry parents called for council to reverse its decision on a swimming squad coaching service.

Big Blue Swimming has been providing coaching at the WAC for the past five years, but last last week council awarded a new tender to NS Swim School.

The move prompted an outcry from parents who said a change in coaches would impact their children's mental health. A petition to save the existing coaches was created which has so far attracted almost 2000 signatures.

Following the backlash, council has now flagged the possibility that Big Blue's coaching staff may stay on.

"We are in active discussions with the current coaches, the new operator and the Warringah Aquatic Swim Club, to deliver as much continuity to families and squad participants as possible," mayor Michael Regan said.

Cr Regan said some people in the community had been supportive of the tender being awarded to NS Swim School.

I understand some families are disappointed the existing provider was not successful in the tender process, and we have also had representation from people in support of the change.

Mayor Michael Regan

"I understand some families are disappointed the existing provider was not successful in the tender process, and we have also had representation from people in support of the change," he said. "That's why we follow a strict governance process where applicants are objectively assessed against a clear set of criteria."

Cr Regan said council followed a robust and competitive tender process to find the most suitable service provider.

"The new operator demonstrated a high level of experience, the capacity to build the service based on solid and relevant experience in delivering similar services in other facilities and a good return for ratepayers," he said.

Earlier - 4.25pm, Monday, November 1

NEW OPERATOR: Parents are angry after a swimming squad coach provider was "booted" out of the Warringah Aquatic Centre. File picture: Scott Gelston

NEW OPERATOR: Parents are angry after a swimming squad coach provider was "booted" out of the Warringah Aquatic Centre. File picture: Scott Gelston

PARENTS say they've been left high and dry after they weren't included in council's negotiations for a new swimming squad coach service at Warringah Aquatic Centre.

Big Blue Swimming has been providing coaching at the WAC for the past five years, and owner Sam Bell said they have around 800 bookings every week.

When councillors unanimously awarded a new tender last week it was given to NS Swim School, which is owned and operated by Olympic coach Narelle Simpson.

The decision means Big Blue's coaches are out and it's left parents angry.

Parent spokesman Bobby Lehane said they should have been consulted in the tender process, and councillors did not consider the impact of their decision on their children's mental health.

"The lengths they've gone to to support our kids during the last 18 months of COVID has been outstanding," he said. "They're about looking after the athlete as a whole.

What everyone underestimates is that parents who swim at the WAC choose these coaches.

Bobby Lehane

"What everyone underestimates is that parents who swim at the WAC choose these coaches, and the council has taken that choice away without asking us. It was ill considered, not corrupt."

Mr Lehane's 12 and 15 year old sons are among Big Blue's clients and he hopes for them that the decision is either overturned, or the coaches will be employed by new provider NS Swim School.

Councillors voted unanimously to accept NS Swim School's tender, but after the decision was made Cr Rory Amon admits he was bombarded by "disgruntled members of the swimming club".

"A long term swim provider with coaches that have personal relationships had been effectively sacked and booted out of the aquatic centre and all these people are really upset about it," he said.

Cr Amon said a lack of information from council staff and a culture of "politicking and combat" between councillors was to blame for the unanimous decision.

"Staff weren't focused on what could be the negatives arising from this swim club issue and so no one knew," he said.

With any tender, people who miss out are always going to be upset.

Northern Beaches Council mayor Michael Regan

Mayor Michael Regan said all councillors were briefed on the tender a week prior to making a decision, and had an opportunity to raise any concerns before the tender was awarded.

"Councillors have a duty of care to ask questions and ensure the process was independent and fair and transparent and satisfy themselves of that and that's why the decision was unanimous," he said.

"With any tender, people who miss out are always going to be upset."

Warringah Aquatic Swim Club have launched a petition calling on council to reconsider its decision with more than 1700 people signing it by 6pm on Monday, November 1.

The petition said council's decision "essentially removes our club's current three outstanding coaches, who have played an instrumental role as coaches of our club for the past six years".

"It is so important that any model agreed to by council must include all three of our current coaching staff - Cameron Gledhill, assistant coach Lachlan Vane-Tempest and junior coach Sandi Edwards."

Ms Bell from Big Blue said she was left in shock when the tender was awarded.

"It was a shock, we honestly thought we were doing a great job up there," she said. "We're devastated for our coaches, they've just created such an incredible community out there."

Big Blue Swimming will continue to operate at the WAC until January 29, 2022.

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