THE University of Limerick Arena is at risk of losing out on further major sporting events unless up to €400,000 can be found for maintenance issues on the 50m swimming pool, it has been confirmed.
A number of swimming bodies in the Mid-West are now lobbying deputies and ministers to source Government funding to help repair structural damage on the movable boom in the pool, which allows the pool to be divided into two 25m sections for sporting events, as well as coaching.
Failure to secure this funding – which is not at present available within UL due to demands from other projects – could result in UL and the wider Mid-West region losing out on events to Dublin and Northern Ireland.
A number of members of swimming clubs brought the issue to the Leader’s attention, and it has has been confirmed by management at the UL Arena and local swimming bodies.
Harry Harbison, chairperson of the Limerick Masters Swimming Club and an executive committee member of Munster Swimming, told the Leader that the swimming community in Limerick and the Mid-West has expressed concerns about the pool for some time.
“When it was built in 2002 it was a state-of-the-art pool, and the only pool of its kind at the time, but there are at least three other pools on the island of Ireland of that size and they are all competing for major events.
“UL has to keep the venue in top class conditions to continue to attract major events. While they have this constraint on them, it could tip the balance in favour of some of the other venues, and that has happened on a couple of occasions.
“We have made representations to the Sports Council and other bodies, but none of these efforts have been successful to date. The money will probably have to come from Government sources.
“This facility is not just here for Limerick, it’s for the whole western seaboard, for the Connacht and Munster regions, because the only other pools of that size are in Dublin and Bangor. All the swimming clubs in those regions would be very conscious of the issues in Limerick and anxious to see it resolved,” he said.
Dave Mahedy, manager of the UL Arena, confirmed that the boom needs replacing and that it is likely to cost in excess of €300,000.
However, Mr Mahedy said they are caught in a catch-22 situation in that they already hold a large number of events in the pool, but also have to cater to their members and casual public users. “The boom is there nearly 15 years, but we don’t have the immediate money to fix it. It isn’t a structural problem with the pool as such, but the boom is a big piece of infrastructure stretching across the whole width of the pool. It’s very specific for swimming galas and competitive events, and some moreso than others,” he explained.
He said the weight of the steel diving blocks have also put strain on the boom.
Mr Mahedy said they have lost out on “one or two events a year maximum”, though he said this is hard to quantify as organisers may switch their focus to other venues for reasons other than this.
“We can’t hold too many events either. It’s a bit of a balancing act. It’s big issue that I’d love to have fixed, but it’s a big engineering job. At the moment it’s not that it can’t be used, but we’re using it at a minimum.”
One of the problems they face, he said, is that a university can’t apply for grants themselves.
A new 25m pool is also being built, which will help with demand and cater for more events, alongside the €9.5m training centre currently under construction for Munster Rugby.