The Northbridge Baths Action Plan

A meeting was held on March 17th 2014 between key community stakeholders with the aim of developing a maintenance and capital works plan for the Northbridge Baths.

Attendees at the meetings included Willoughby City Council Acting Mayor Gail Giles-Gidney, General Manager Nick Tobin and Willoughby Leisure Manager Kate Day; Northbridge Progress Association President Rob Coote and member Marillyn Stewart; Northbridge Swimming Club Secretary Tim Clarkson; Friends of Northbridge Baths spokesperson, Bruce Wilson.

Acting Mayor Gail Giles Gidney noted the contribution of the Baths to the many local bathers and wider Willoughby community.

Attendees outlined issues that they felt needed attention:

  • Rubbish in carpark needed collection and possibly a narrow-opening bin at the head of the steps was needed to collect small litter;
  • Large numbers of clothing, shoes and toys had been regularly collected by locals, held for a week, then sent to rubbish;
  • Overall cleanliness was reportedly worse than last year – but that this could be attributed to the fact that this summer’s usage appears to have increased, with more teenagers and young families using the facility.
  • Shark proof netting needed regular checking;
  • Night time fishing: hooks and fishing gear had been found floating in lanes; oysters broken open for bait, leaving jagged edges behind;
  • Turning blocks and ladders needed attention;
  • some extra shading would be welcome;
  • Maintenance programme needed to be reviewed to ensure it was delivering to expectations;
  • Community expected a reasonable response time for handling complaints;
  • Simple, direct communications was needed: email updates rather than formal meetings or a standing committee;

Tim Clarkson noted the Swimming Club’s thanks for the Baths facility, and the Club’s wish to keep the status quo in terms of facilities and improvements for old-fashioned, simple, relaxed family fun. The Club did not favour any restaurant proposal. Club members are happy to help out as volunteers on “working bees” or minor tidying of litter or cleaning. He did acknowledge that the grass area needed attention.

Bruce Wilson noted that his many emails summarised the views of some 60-plus regular Baths users and did not warrant further expansion, but sought positive responses from Council’s staff.

Willoughby Leisure Manager Kate Day responded:

  • new cleaners started in mid-2013 and had been hard to get up to speed; showers now better cleaned;
  • BRI Security do two patrols each night over all Council facilities that has them arriving at the Baths at about dusk, then between 1am and 2.30am. She encouraged users to contact the Rangers directly on 97771000.
  • Lawns and grounds: Noted the complaints about poor workmanship (and the neglected appearance after the recent rain). Contractors are delayed after heavy rains so the “low priority” areas like the Baths are left until last. Council could revisit alternatives, like a local contractor.

FONB’s 9 Points for Discussion:

What is “The Baths” from the users’ perspective?
Bruce Wilson noted that Council needed to view the “Baths experience” as having some seven elements: starting with fresh-looking attractive direction signs on the roads; ensuring Widgiewa Rd continued to prohibit parking and ensure that weed growth on the western side was minimised so that cars could safely pass; keeping carpark and adjacent bushland clean and well maintained; keeping steps to/from carpark safe; ensuring attractive top entrance to Baths (removing vines and dilapidated fencing and signs); Baths grounds, changing rooms and enclosure.
Articulate Council’s vision for the Baths,
Nick Tobin responded that : –
  • the short-term issues were now starting to be addressed, but that the long-term items required development of a Master Plan over the next two to three years;
  • immediate items, include refurbishment of the starting boards, would happen this Winter.
  • the kiosk needs reconsideration, including a power usage estimate, and possible sale of cooking/freezing equipment not required for occasional Club or carnival usage.
  • early indications are that about a million dollars would be needed in the next 5 to 10 years for structural repairs including the spalling concrete headstocks.
  • provision of a safe source of boiling water will be looked as soon as possible, possibly via some restricted access to the kitchen or other area; Nick was strongly against power cords and electric kettles (even if donated).
  • some form of sun shading would be re-examined, noting that the four 5m triangular shade-sails would achieve 48% of the original shaded area in a more safe manner and at a fraction of the cost of the original cover.
Clarify Maritime Services and NSW Government policy on long-term retention of public benefit structures below Mean High Water Mark.”
Nick Tobin stated that:-
  • the Baths (below Mean High Water Mark) were subject to Roads and Maritime Services ownership who have given a 12-month “rolling lease” to Council;
  • there is Crown Land involved as well, so Council has preferred to leave tenure on this basis rather than seek longer-term tenure;
  • RMS and OEH prevent the bringing in of sand of any quality to cover the exposed rock in the wading areas;
  • he would quietly investigate whether there was any policy or attitude within RMS that might prejudice the long-term future of the Baths.
Clarify constraints on Council’s recurrent and capital expenditure over 3 to 5 years
The Meeting noted that in May and June 2011 public meetings, Infrastructure Director Steven Head and Jeff Ellis promised to (i) Identify new shade structure in draft 2012-13 Capital Works programme, (ii) Complete asset investigations and long term maintenance plan; and (iii) complete Masterplan and secure long term funding over next two years (ie June 2013 ! ).
Nick Tobin indicated:-
  • Re Long Term Planning, there would be considerable prioritising of capital works needed, and that no major Baths works were expected during the two years spent finalising of the Baths Master Plan.
  • Re Maintenance Planning, he would like to have a meeting in November to see if this was satisfactory.
  • The Asset Management Strategy is on the Council’s website.
Discuss ways scheduled operations and maintenance can best be delivered
It was suggested –
  • Consider need for improved estimates of visitation rates and weather impacts to improve scheduled cleaning and maintenance.
  • Kate Day stated that WLC officers have an itemised check list to be used during Monday and Friday inspections, which is returned to her for review and action, if any.
  • Agreed that an on-site Logbook would not be as effective as direct contact with WLM or WLC staff plus feedback emails to NPA/NSC/FONB, possibly simply adapting current documents used for reporting to senior management.
Discuss ways user groups and individuals can be encouraged to assist without risk to Council liability or staff effectiveness and harmony.
FONB tabled suggestions:
  • bringing emptied garbage bins down to grassed area on Tuesday morning; collecting litter and fallen tree branches; weeding; watering; pruning; work as a “Park Care Group” under guidance from Council’s Bushcare staff to top-dress and fertilise the grass; occasional special “working bees” ; interpretative notices of geology, history, aquatic and bird life to help visitors better appreciate the area; Council officers did not respond.
  • FONB noted that they included many retired experts in engineering and other disciplines that would be able and willing to help Council officers in examining Baths’ works and solutions.
Actions proposed by end-April, end-August and end-November to restore grounds and facilities. What Council will do. What users can best do to help.”
Kate Day undertook to:
  • ensure (unspecified) Winter Maintenance Program was delivered. No other commitments from Council officers.
Best methods for future communications and cooperation.
Agreed that a formal Baths Committee would not be effective at this stage; prefer to have good email communications through the key day-to-day Manager to the NPA, NSC and FONB.

FONB Seven Ancillary Items for Discussion:

Review HWS costs; investigate electric (or gas) boosted solar HWS on flat roof, with Government subsidy.
Nick Tobin said Council did a study on that some years ago and it was not cost-effective. Bruce Wilson suggested that low-cost, additional exterior insulation of the two services may improve heat-loss, as well as considering a review of heat retention in service pipes.
If kiosk is not to be leased, review current ops and maintenance costs and initial “Community Canteen” options, then consider moth-balling or selling the equipment.
Nick Tobin noted that the kiosk was heavily weather dependent, and was only being used in a limited manner by NSC on Saturday morning.
Night-time fishing and occasional camping to be discouraged.
Nick Tobin noted the security inspection times, and encouraged users to try and pinpoint trespass days and times for a concerted effort.
Bruce Wilson suggested that we might letter-drop houses with views of the Baths in Minimbah Rd (and the boat shed) asking for “neighbourhood watch” style assistance.
Use of a numeric padlock on a bolt on change-rooms that permits them to be secured at night, but opened by users who know the PIN. This worked well during Winter Key periods.
Agreed that the last two seasons have not caused any systemic problems. Observer Leigh Tingle noted that he had found one backpacker asleep in the mens room with the door locked. Agreed to leave as is for the moment and ensure Security check the change-rooms.
Use of a similar numeric padlock on the western storage area with a secured cabinet inside it that contains cleaning aids for accredited NPA, NSC or FONB users to access
To be considered.
Use of a “Maintenance Log Book” on site for users to record items of concern and WCC to advise of progress.
See above; agreed to email exchange rather than Log Book.
Shadesails – 5x5x5 triangles (ie 12 sqm) , Stainless fittings, 180 gsm, non-fraying knitted fabric, 90% UV protection; 2 x beige; 2 x green; 4 at $50 each = $200 for 48sqm shade (FONB has 3t black polyrope).
Council officers to consider as a partial shading option for Spring.