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Dundee Olympia closure: New documents reveal £33m building was deteriorating just weeks after opening

The Olympia during its construction.
The Olympia during its construction.

The condition of parts of Dundee’s Olympia building was branded “shocking” by council chiefs just weeks after it opened – as new documents show the sheer scale of problems that have plagued the leisure centre.

Papers released for the first time reveal how bosses have been dealing with problems around the construction and maintenance of the swimming pools since they opened in June 2013.

That summer, “major concerns” were raised by staff and management about leaks into a plant room – an area which still has issues to this day.

The documents show how a management group for the building found working conditions for staff were “unacceptable”.

Minutes from a Leisure and Culture Dundee committee meeting show how members branded “the deterioration of the plant room infrastructure after only six/eight weeks of operation… shocking”.

Officials at the site of the Olympia as work got under way on its construction.

It prompted David Dorward, the council chief executive at the time, to write to contractor Mansell after seeing the conditions for himself.

The documents – which run to hundreds of pages in length – also show how corrosion was included in a list of snagging defects in May 2014, just 11 months after it opened at a cost of £33 million.

Corrosion is one of the reasons the swimming pools have been forced to shut for more than a year for repairs worth £4.5m.

Councillors will scrutinise the closure at a special meeting on Thursday – when they will also discuss the roofing scandal that is set to cost taxpayers in excess of £4m.

2014: Pool found to be ‘too short’ in snagging list

The “list of defects” published in May 2014 detailed how remedial work to corroded flume columns had already “failed”, despite being only months old.

The same problem was identified at the dive stair.

Also on the list of more than 170 defects was a problem with the length of the pools, identified by an inspector from the ASA – the official swim racing body.

“The official ASA surveyor was unable to certify the length of the pool as it was too short,” the document stated.

The Olympia was built in 2013.

“Generally the pool is short in both 25m and 50m modes.

“So far this has only been advised to us verbally and the surveyor’s report is yet to be forwarded to us.”

The papers do not make it clear whether this issue was subsequently rectified.

Other issues from that time included leaks in the flumes, the plant room and the north side of the competition pool.

2017: Expert report highlights cases of corrosion

Another of the documents put forward is a 2017 report by consultant Paul Hackett, an expert in swimming pool and leisure centre management.

Mr Hackett was asked about potential causes of corrosion in the pool hall.

He identified humidity levels that fell outwith the professional guidelines, noting that the ventilation system was operating at only 82%.

He said this was likely to help reduce energy costs, but said the system should be working at 100% to prevent rusting.

The flumes at the Olympia.

He also recommended that pool covers be considered for when the facilities were not in use.

It is not clear if those issues were fully addressed, although a separate and undated note suggests staff were considering the benefits of pool covers.

Minutes of meetings from the time also suggest some work was done on ventilation and humidity.

2021: ‘Poor’ maintenance blamed for corrosion

A list of issues and defects, thought to have been supplied in February 2021, revealed more details about what was happening with the building.

It included the “corroding of stainless steel handrails, barriers, gates”, noting: “It has been concluded that the condition of stainless steel is a result of poor maintenance/housekeeping.”

The report which highlighted poor maintenance and housekeeping.

Other issues include the “poor [installation] and design” of fire door frames, mechanical fixings to balcony seats corroding, and water ingress to the main plant room.

A failure of the pool hall cameras, problems with the staff entrance door and air quality and ventilation issues were also down as “urgent” problems.

What else do the documents show?

Other undated documents list defects with the treading on the stairs leading to the dive platforms, with humidity causing the adhesive to fail.

Defects were also identified with the facility’s green flume at one point, with a report saying there was a failure of one of its electrical features and water was leaking.

A note next to it said the feature had been out of order for some time, causing “customer dissatisfaction and reputational damage”.

A maintenance report showing issues with the flumes.

Staff also complained about a leak into the acid store at the pool, where chemicals used to clean the pool are kept.

First reported in February 2019, a note on the complaint said it was still not resolved by the following January.

The documents do not make clear if or when many of the issues were ultimately fixed.

Meanwhile it has also been revealed how discussions had already taken place about temporarily closing the Olympia to carry out repairs, in advance of October’s enforced closure due to a lighting issue.

However, the proposed closure was much shorter – 12 weeks – than the one now imposed.

What is being said?

Councillor Fraser Macpherson, a member of the council’s scrutiny committee – which will look at the issues in detail on Thursday – said: “The meeting will be the opportunity to look in-depth at the mistakes that have led to the multi-million-pound fiascos concerning the Olympia closure, and major repairs needed and the mistakes in relation to roof tiles on housing across the city.

“However, what is already very obvious is that, in the case of the Olympia, there was, in my view, a clear failure in relation to good practice in swimming pool maintenance.

Rust on the roof of the pool hall.
Bolts that have corroded and snapped off.

“On the roof tiles errors, there was poor practice in training and supervision, so when the building standards in relation to roof tiling changed, this was not properly communicated or checked, resulting in the huge cost of having to do the work again.

“These are very serious issues.

“The cost to the Dundee council taxpayer is around £9m and it is totally unacceptable. The council must make sure it can never happen again.”

The Courier has contacted Balfour Beatty – owner of Mansell – for comment on its role in the construction of the Olympia.

More than £10k spent on Dundee Olympia retail unit that hasn’t had a single occupant in nine years