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Dundee Olympia: Is new manager hunt sign of promise for crisis-hit centre?

Dundee City Council has previously said the centre will open in October — two years after it closed suddenly.

The Olympia is currently shut. Image Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson
The Olympia is currently shut. Image Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

News the Olympia Leisure Centre is recruiting a manager has raised hopes the crisis-hit facility could soon be welcoming visitors again.

The centre mysteriously shut in October 2021 and it was later revealed a raft of serious safety issues were discovered.

As the biggest swimming facility in the region, the situation has left thousands disadvantaged compared to many other areas in Scotland.

The secrecy surrounding the exact cause and the length of the closure has even led some to speculate on whether the facility will reopen at all.

But more than a year and a half on, could good news be on the horizon?

‘Reopening timeline’

Operators Leisure & Culture Dundee are hiring a new permanent manager as the repairs, costing taxpayers millions of pounds, finally edge closer to completion.

The new boss will replace the previous manager who retired in February 2022.

The pools have been out of action for a year and a half. Image: DC Thomson.

Dundee City Council was asked if the centre will reopen as scheduled in October but did not answer directly.

A spokesperson said the work at the Olympia is now “well underway” and staff are “working towards the reopening timeline which was set out last year”.

They also said announcements on this “will be made in due course”.

However, a senior source within Leisure & Culture Dundee (L&CD) says they have heard no major issues with the timeline.

Reaction to planned Olympia reopening

Local swim groups and families have been some of the most vocal critics of the closure.

David Haig, from Dundee City Aquatics, has previously blasted the council for not providing clear answers on who is at fault.

But he says with the reopening around just six months away, the group is now ready to start rebuilding itself.

He said: “We are desperate to get Olympia up and running again. We are also looking to review water use, including more 50m pool use, which is essential in trying to develop world class athletes.

“We are accepting the updates that repairs are on track with reopening in October, and fingers crossed earlier, and planning for this.

“It will be devastating for the club and our athletes should there be delays.”

Dundee Olympia
Dundee City Aquatics coach David Haig. Picture: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

He added: “Although accountability does not appear to be a priority — in particular from the builders, designers, and those checking and signing off the build — from an aquatics point of view, solely, we all look forward to building robust partnerships in developing best use and value, and returning to what is best for all users.”

How did we get here?

Much has happened since the unexpected closure in mid October 2021 and it took almost six weeks before the public was told the full extent of the problems.

The closure was blamed on a seemingly minor “lighting issue” but it soon transpired the building was unsafe.

The flumes were rusting, steel bolts were severely corroded, and the pools plant room was flooding.

Council leader John Alexander says there is “no single person, entity, or issue” to blame.

Rather, there were “multiple points of failure that contributed to the Olympia closure and repair works”, he believes.

John Alexander.

It means there has been no clear summary of the cause or a report detailing any learnings that have been established.

The Courier alone has published 70 articles including analysis, investigations, and opinion pieces since late 2021.

There are hundreds of pages of council documents available — some reports contain 800 pages alone — which the council’s scrutiny committee has spent time looking at to find answers.

These cover the initial planning phase before the centre was built, technical reports, detailed minutes and email correspondence.

Some of the possible reasons include what the council has described as “initial workmanship and detailing” and “operational management of the pool”.

It means many members of the public are still angry, particularly because the bill is coming out of the public purse.

A sign outside the Olympia. Image Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

More than £6m in public cash is being spent refurbishing the East Whale Lane facility, despite it being just nine years old.

Mr Alexander has stressed there are “no skeletons in the closet” and everything that could be shared with the public has already been disclosed.

But calls for an independent inquiry have nonetheless continued.

Many opposition councillors, MSPs, and local residents believe bringing in independent experts who fully understand construction and maintenance is the only route available to establish full accountability.

Whether Mr Alexander and the Dundee SNP group decide to allow this or not could, ultimately, form part of their legacy.