Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 53, September 2009
(by Graham Watton)
With the installation of a reticulated water supply for Paeroa from Tarariki Creek in 1899 the first call was made for public swimming baths.
The Paeroa School children had to walk to a swimming hole made in Tarariki Creek opposite the cemetery, a distance of over 3kms there and the same distance back to school. Rocks were man-handled into place to form the pool, but these were swept away with every fall of heavy rain, and in some cases by vandals.
Over the next eight years repeated calls were made for a public swimming pool but the project never got past the talking stage. The Ohinemuri County Council was supportive of the proposal, but was prevented by the law from raising funds by way of a loan to meet the cost.
Following the drowning of a young lad in the Ohinemuri River, in March, 1907, near the Criterion Hotel, there was another public call for a baths to teach the children to swim. The baths could be either developed in the Tarariki Creek, the Ohinemuri River or have an artificial pool in the domain. A local resident, Mr R. Whitten, offered a section of his land near the railway station for a swimming bath.
Two years on and still no progress. The Paeroa District High School committee obtained costs for a suitable pool. A 120ft by 30ft x 3ft to 7ft deep structure would cost £330 and one 150ft x 30ft x same depth was estimated to cost £550.
The school committee called a public meeting to discuss the proposed project and a committee was formed to proceed with the project. With a change of law the Ohinemuri County Council was now allowed to raise a loan to meet the cost.
However, there was no real action until the Paeroa Chamber of Commerce became involved and called a public meeting to decide on a bath 90ft x 30ft at the cost of £380 and to be sited in the domain. This meeting was informed that of the 148 pupils in standards 4, 5 and 6 only 53 could swim.
By now, June, 1911, the county council had established a special rating area on which a rate would be levied to repay any money raised. The loan was for £1000, with £600 to be spent on domain development work and the remainder on the baths.
The Government declined an application for £250 as a Coronation grant and then gave permission for the council to raise the proposed loan. The council decided to accept an offer from the Bank of New Zealand to provide the funds.
On January 31, 1912, a loan poll was held and of the 500 electors eligible to vote only 97 exercised their right--49 were for the proposal, 47 against and 1 informal. There had to be a three-fifths majority and therefore the loan poll was lost and the whole project was pigeon-holed to gather dust.
It took the drowning of another five children, including three from the one family, by November, 1920, to re-ignite the call for swimming baths, but little was achieved. At the end of 1925, when the district was discussing a suitable war memorial to commemorate those 44 soldiers from the district who gave their lives in the First World War, that baths project was pulled from its pigeon-hole.
By now the Paeroa Borough Council had been in control for 10 years and was right behind the project although not as a memorial. With only 32 per cent of the Paeroa District High School's pupils who could swim the school committee joined forces with Chamber of Commerce and the council and the project took positive steps forwards.
Sites on the domain, near the Masonic Hall and the Church of England, Wood Street and Victoria Street were all checked out, and finally in March, 1927, a site in Princes Street was settled upon. A poll of ratepayers carried the loan poll of £2000 ($4000) by 292 votes to 89.
With the green light given, plans for baths, 100ft long, 40ft wide, 3ft 6in to 8ft deep were drawn up and put out to tender. There was only one other swimming pool in New Zealand the same depth, most were 7ft 6in.
Local building contractor, Mr W. Chamberlain, won the contract and he made a start in January, 1928.
On November 3, 1928, the baths, complete with flood lighting and diving boards, were opened by the Mayor Mr W. Marshall with Master Jack Silcock taking the first plunge.
The Paeroa Amateur Swimming Club was formed and soon had organised club nights and inviting noted swimmers to take part and also provide coaching for its members.
The first season recorded 3253 adults and 2611 children, a total of 6052 individuals using the baths. There were 72 adults and 116 children with season or monthly tickets.
The baths were closed on Mondays for "wash out" and were also open on Thursday and Friday nights for public use. Extra dressing sheds and seats were installed to cater for the large crowds which supported the club's various carnivals.
In the early 1930s the chlorination of the water was introduced to ensure the water did not have to be changed weekly. Apart from regular maintenance there was little change to the baths until the early 1970s when the Paeroa Jaycee Chapter, as a project, remodel the frontage, renovated the dressing sheds and office area and installed a paddling pool for the very young children.
Then in the 1990s the baths area underwent a major upgrade including resealing the pool, updating the filtration system and dressing sheds. The cost of this was partially met by a generous sponsorship from Tony Richards Toyota, a local firm, which was given naming rights to the pool.