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23/09/2021

Shock and 'insult' as Portlaoise Leisure Centre reopen date extended

Shock and 'insult' as Portlaoise Leisure Centre reopen date extended

Portlaoise Leisure Centre, closed since March 2020

Schoolchildren and communities will not be able to enjoy a swim at Portlaoise Leisure centre for months to come, with the reopening hit by further delays.

Despite public money being sunk into the centre's extensive renovations following its shutdown 18 months ago, there is no reopen date in sight.

Brexit and Covid-19 have hit the supply of specialist workers and of materials, say Laois County Council.

Last May, Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland expressed hope that it would be open by July. However in a detailed update given at the September meeting of Portlaoise Municipal District, Director of Services for leisure facilities, Donal Brennan revealed that the date will be not be before November but with no guarantee it will not be later.

"A reopening date before November is not anticipated. The date is provisional and reopening is dependent on factors outside of the control of the Operator," Mr Brennan reported.

Three Portlaoise councillors had requested an update. They were unhappy at the report, which lists some 11 jobs yet to be completed including servicing of all equipment, new IT and gym equipment installations and new doors.

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald said she was insulted and shocked at the report's lack of clarity, asking who the 'operator' is.

"This is misleading and I'm trying to be kind. I'm very disappointed at the wording. It's a huge issue for the town, the county and all the schools in Laois. They have missed out on two years of swimming lessons.  It know there have been difficulties but this response is an insult to us as public representatives," she said.

Cllr Thomasina Connell had also tabled a motion seeking an update.

"It is an insult to the people of Laois. We are waiting months for a date. I've contacted the council numerous times with no response until August 20 when I was told by email there is no date. How could a Director of Services of a capital project not be able to give an open date or a vague open date? 

"There is a list here as long as my arm of works, why haven't they been done, the money was given? It is scandalous the pace of this," she said.

Cllr Willie Aird had a similar motion that asked Mr Brennan and the Sports Officer Anne Marie Maher to meet with Portlaoise councillors on site as soon as possible. The response given to him was that 'council staff meet regularly with councillors outside of normal statutory meetings and this can be arranged in the usual fashion and appropriate staff made available to attend'.

He was also unhappy with that response.

"Do you see that reply? I propose it be sent to the chief executive. I submitted a motion to ask for a meeting. It's difficult enough to see this beautiful facility closed. We need to know what is the progress so when we get the calls from the public we can tell them. I clearly said 'as soon as possible'. Can we have a date?" he requested. 

The centre closed like all other leisure centres with the arrival of Covid-19 but in June 2020 the volunteer board announced it was being liquidated due to lack of income, with the loss of 30 jobs. A public protest march ensued.

After negotiations, owners Laois County Council gained the agreement of the volunteer board at Portarlington Leisure Centre to take over both sites. 

Portarlington swimming pool also underwent some renovations and reopened last June. It is currently the only open public pool and gym in Laois.

The renovations listed as already completed at Portlaoise include painting, reopening astroturf pitches, fixing rising damp, roof leak repairs, a new €40,000 hot water supply for showers, new floors, upgraded heating, reconfigured gym, new lights, a new Building Management System, a new reception area, and leaks fixed in the children's pool.

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