ANOTHER HODDER POOL FLOUNDERS
When Hodder Associates' Berners Pool in Cumbria featured as a Building Study in AJ 22.04.04, the opening sentence almost prophesied the leisure centre's downfall.
The piece began: 'At a time when local authorities are building few pools - not least because of the financial risks of running these staff-intensive buildings - the community of Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria has taken matters into its own hands, and built its own.'
Sadly, nearly three years later, the community trust that owned the leisure facility has gone bust and the communityrun pool has closed indefinitely to the public.
The saga began when the local authority, South Lakeland District Council, refused to be persuaded that there was enough demand for a new pool.
But the authority agreed to provide the land for the building, as long as the community raised the cash.
As a result, the Cartmel Peninsula Recreational Trust was set up, raising £800,000 and securing £2.5 million in Lottery funding to ensure the pool was built.
However, soon after the building opened, and despite receiving an RIBA Award, the high costs of running the facility caught up with the trust.
It eventually went into receivership last October, over what some are claiming was as little as £70,000.
Last month the local authority undertook a survey to assess the state of the pool and was unpleasantly surprised.
According to certain council members the survey revealed that it would cost in excess of £900,000 to repair the building.
One councillor, Bill Wearing, has suggested there is now a distinct possibility that it would be cheaper to demolish it.
Wearing says: 'It's looking like it would be cheaper to knock it down, but you can't do that until you have gone down every route - until every fiifl is dotted. We are looking at every possible option.'
The council has since become increasingly cagey when discussing Berners Pool; it has been left with an abandoned building and the word 'litigation' is beginning to be muttered.
Council chief executive Mike Jones says: 'We can confirm we have taken the land back which the building sits on.
It is a very difficult situation [to talk about], as there may be litigation in the future.
'The one thing we can say is there are problems with the building, but we are not certain whether they were due to its design, its maintenance or its construction. We have been offering the building to private operators, of which there have been four or five companies interested. But if that fails, we will have to look at all remaining options.'
News of legal proceedings will be the last thing Stephen Hodder, director of Hodder Associates, will want, especially as his protracted battle with Hackney Council over his troubled Clissold Leisure Centre in east London has only recently come to an end.
In fact, the histories of the two pools are not entirely dissimilar, with Hodder's Berners Pool echoing the earlier demise of the Clissold Leisure Centre. Both were closed soon after opening, and both, according to the architect, experienced problems due to poor maintenance.
Hodder says he now believes the Cartmel Peninsula Recreational Trust was inevitably going to struggle to keep the pool open.
He says: 'The building was never actually signed-off - and there was a list of initial defects that needed to be sorted - but as soon as soon as we heard that the trust was in financial difficulties we knew we wouldn't be able to get the contractor back.'
'It became apparent quite early on that the trust didn't have the maintenance budgets in place, and although they were doing their best they simply didn't have a business plan.'
According to Hodder, the trust was unable to repair the simplest of problems, such as a cracked glass door which he said had to be wrapped in polythene rather than replaced.
He says: 'We were willing to help the trust as much as we could, but there was no way the contractor, Thomas Armstrong, would be coming back if it wasn't going to get paid.'
The £900,000 repair bill, Hodder says, is most likely to be the result of the storms that recently battered the country.
But he has also pointed the finger at the council, which he claims may have 'amplified' the building's repair bill to facilitate demolishing the pool.
He says: 'The building had been operational for three years, and we have been well aware of the initial defects. [The survey] suggests that a lot of the damage has happened since it was abandoned.
'The council has always been against it, as they never wanted the liability, and have always had an attitude of fiWe won't be there to pick up the piecesfl. I think they are using it now as a PR exercise. They don't want to lose face and maybe they're amplifying repair costs to wash their hands of it.'
Mike Jones acknowledges that the £900,000 bill would include further enhancements - 'to be expected in a modern building' - but said he was more than happy to listen to Hodder's suggestions.
'Our people have had a look at it, and if he thinks there is nothing wrong with the structure of the building, then maybe he could suggest a cheaper way of repairing it, ' Jones says.