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Nestled between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park, the North Sydney Olympic Pool is an icon of the north shore. It’s seen the likes of swimming legends Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould, and Murray Rose, who have all trained and smashed records in its famous lanes. 

As many eager swimmers know, the redevelopment has blown out with significant cost increases and delays. Despite the setbacks, this refurbishment will be the most extensive upgrade to the pool since it opened in 1936.

Initially estimated at $64 million with a mid-2023 completion date, the project is now expected to cost over $100 million and finish in late 2024 or early 2025. 

Image: Places We Swim

The delays have understandably raised concerns among residents, prompting questions about leadership and project management.

In response, North Sydney Mayor Zoë Baker has acknowledged the challenges and outlined plans to address them. We spoke exclusively to Zoe about the challenges, concerns, and the decision to commission an independent review by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). 

The Mayor explained that the independent review was instigated at a Municipal minute after the Council was advised of significant variation claims and delays with the project. The review’s scope, says the Mayor, “was developed to understand the reasons for project delay and increased cost, but more importantly to provide insights to assist in the forward management of the project.”

Dawn Fraser and Ilsa Konrads at the Australian National Swimming Championships and Olympic Trials, North Sydney Olympic Pool. February 1960.

The Mayor recognises the public’s concerns about leadership and project management. Efforts to regain trust include a new leadership team tasked with reviewing and improving Council practices.

“Over the past 15 months, the Council has introduced a new leadership team that has been actively undertaking a number of reviews to inform of opportunities for improvement within North Sydney Council,” the Mayor said.

This broader initiative aims to mitigate risks and improve service delivery across the municipality. The council has also strengthened project management for the pool redevelopment specifically.

“External project managers have been appointed, along with specialist quantity surveying and programming specialists to assist with managing time, cost, and quality of the project moving forward,” the Mayor explained. We’re told these experts will ensure the project stays on track in the coming months.

Above: An artist’s impression of the proposed new design for the pool (left) and a current photo showing progress to date (right). Source: North Sydney Council

Despite the current hurdles, the Mayor remains committed to the long-term vision for the North Sydney Olympic Pool. The goal is to restore the pool’s iconic status and provide the community with a modern facility.

“The North Sydney Olympic Pool has always been an iconic swimming destination,” the Mayor said. “We are working very hard to ensure that once the doors are opened, this reputation is restored and the community are able to enjoy the expanded facilities.”

To minimise the financial impact of the project’s delays and cost overruns, the Council is redeveloping plans to increase revenue.

“To ensure the ongoing financial impacts are reduced, we are redeveloping business plans with a view of increasing income targets through expanded learn-to-swim programs as well as exploring other opportunities to generate revenue outside of traditional swimming and fitness activities,” the Mayor explained.

These plans will be developed in consultation with the community to ensure they meet residents’ needs and aspirations for the facility while minimising the impact on other services.