Dundee’s beleaguered Olympia Leisure Centre is back in the spotlight as bosses admit more repairs are needed just weeks after reopening.
The centre only opened its doors to the public again in December, having been shuttered since October 2021 so £6 million worth of repairs could be carried out.
But a falling metal rod – which only narrowly missed swimmers – has led to the closure of its leisure and toddler pools while more remedial works are undertaken.
It’s the latest chapter in the long-running saga of the Olympia, which has been plagued with problems since it opened in 2013.
Who are the key figures in the Dundee Olympia crisis?
Building firm Mansell, owned by Balfour Beatty, was awarded the £24m Olympia contract in December 2010.
Originally scheduled to be completed in September 2012, the project was hit by what was described by Mansell as “construction complications” and delayed by six months.
The facility opened in June 2013, with the final construction cost totalling more than £30m.
Dundee City Council have since confirmed they are not pursuing Mansell for compensation following the £6m repair works carried out less than a decade later.
Balfour Beatty previously declined to comment despite repeated approaches from The Courier about its role in the project.
Leisure and Culture Dundee
The Olympia Leisure Centre is run by Leisure and Culture Dundee (LACD), an arms-length body of Dundee City Council.
The organisation has been responsible for carrying out the repairs required at the centre and, as LACD is funded by the local authority, meaning the costs have come from taxpayers’ pockets.
Leader of Dundee City Council since 2017, John Alexander has admitted the Olympia has been plagued by issues “from day one”.
Speaking to The Courier in December, the SNP councillor also said dozens” of people – including himself – must take a portion of the blame for the debacle.
But he has previously ruled out a council review into what has gone wrong at the facility.
He says there are “no skeletons in the closet” and all relevant information has been released publicly.
Dundee councillor Will Dawson was the first person to flag issues at the Olympia in his role as Leisure & Culture Dundee health and safety committee chair.
Emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, revealed the seriousness of the situation was highlighted to council’s chief executive Greg Colgan just days after the facility shut in October 2021.
Moira Methven, chairperson of LACD, wrote: “Will [Dawson] in his capacity of chair of LACD’s health and safety committee has been raising some of the issues for a number of years now and it had been hoped that works would have been undertaken during lockdown.
“However for a number of reasons this did not happen.”
David Dorward was chief executive of Dundee City Council when the Olympia was built.
He also raised concerns about the facility.
Council documents show he wrote to Mansell just weeks after it opened after seeing the deterioration of the plant room infrastructure.
The conditions were branded “shocking” during a Leisure and Culture Dundee committee meeting held in summer 2013.
Ken Guild, the leader of the local authority at the time Olympia was built, told The Courier in 2022 he always had concerns about the site of the crisis-hit centre.
The retired councillor said the administration felt pressure to keep the new Olympia – replacing the old one at the Waterfront – in the centre of the city, rather than a more spacious site on the outskirts.
Mr Guild added he was worried the East Whale Lane plot for the £33m swimming facility was “cramped”.
He said: “The site that was chosen was just big enough.
“It was known it would be a challenge to put a building on that site but it was decided it was sufficient.”
The pools complex was built on the site of a former car park.
Mr Guild added: “That location would not have been my first choice.”
Judy Dobbie became director of Leisure & Culture Dundee in January 2021 and takes home a salary of over £100,000 per year.
This means she oversaw the repair works carried out at the Olympia following its closure in October that year.
And when it reopened in December 2023, she described the facility as “one the best leisure pools in the country”.
But emails obtained by The Courier revealed Ms Dobbie’s pushed for a full inspection of the curtain and speaker systems above the pools, as well as the window fittings, after problems were discovered in November 2021.
These problems made LACD hesitant to reopen the Olympia, with Ms Dobbie warning of “great consequences” if customers remained in the building.
Dundee City Council’s executive director of city development previously told councillors he believed the new Olympia building was designed in such a way that “annual maintenance was not necessarily required”.
Speaking at a council meeting just over two years ago, he also admitted the facility was looking at “annual maintenance closures in the future”.
Mr Presswood – who earns over £120,000 annually – claimed the problems within the building were purely aesthetic.
He said: “It’s important to say it’s not structural corrosion. It does not in any way damage the integrity of the building.
“It’s cosmetic and the reason we are replacing it [the flumes and light fixings] is because it’s clearly damaging reputationally and affects users enjoyment.”
There have been calls for an independent inquiry into the Olympia debacle from both local politicians and members of the public.
Michael Marra – North East Scotland MSP for Scottish Labour – raised a question in Holyrood a year ago, saying the people of Dundee had been “badly failed” by the council administration.
However his calls were rejected by the then minister for local government, housing and planning Ben Macpherson, who said it was for Dundee City Council to address.
Dundee City Council has so far ruled out an inquiry into the Olympia, saying information is already publicly available.
Only Scottish ministers have the power to establish a public inquiry and can do so when they deem particular events to be of “public concern”.