Opal Tower builder to redevelop heritage-listed North Sydney Olympic Pool

North Sydney Olympic Pool. Photo: North Sydney Council/Facebook.

By PETER HACKNEY

Icon Construction, the company behind the Opal Tower apartments fiasco at Sydney Olympic Park, has won the contract for the redevelopment of the North Sydney Olympic Pool, with works on the heritage-listed site expected to start in March.

North Sydney Council says Icon will upgrade the indoor and outdoor pools, build a new grandstand, a new children’s play area and an expanded gym, as part of the $64 million project.

In a statement, North Sydney Mayor Jilly Gibson said “age has taken its toll” on the 50-metre pool, concourse and grandstand, declaring that it had deteriorated to the point where “we can only operate with load restrictions”.

“This redevelopment will mean our regular swimmers will be able to enjoy their harbourside swim for many decades to come,” she said.

Gibson said it would also allow wider community access to the facility. 

“We’ll have better swimming and play options for families, older people will be able to enjoy gentle exercise in warm water pools and we’ll be able to offer more aquatic and fitness classes and an expanded gymnasium,” she said.

“This will be a centre that meets the needs of future generations, not just a fortunate few.”

Despite her comments, concerns have been expressed over the choice of the construction company, considering its connections to one of the most infamous construction debacles in Australia in recent years.

On 24 December, 2018, over 3000 residents were evacuated from the 36-storey, 117-metre Opal Tower after large cracks, banging noises and falling panelling raised concerns about the building’s structural integrity. 

In some cases, structural shifts meant police had to prise open doors to allow residents to evacuate the building. 

The saga continued in a morass of subsequent evacuations, repairs, remediation work, legal disputes, and social and political ramifications, although the building is currently deemed safe for habitation.

Typical of comments expressed across social media today was a post by Stathi Messaris, who wrote on Facebook: “One of Australia’s largest construction companies, created a dismal failure of biblical proportions with Opal Tower and will lead this build. Blind Freddy can see what’s going on here.”

Project manager David Miniter, meanwhile, wrote: “What a great choice, I hope the councillors are putting their assets up for grabs if something goes wrong. After all it’s their recommendation and choice … so responsibility should fall on them.”

Another poster, Jeffree Inferus, joked:  “Will this redevelopment be all that it’s cracked up to be?”

However, the North Sydney Mayor defended the choice, with The Sydney Morning Herald quoting Gibson as saying she had “full confidence in Icon, otherwise they wouldn’t have been awarded the tender”.

The controversy is not the first ruckus over the pool redevelopment. In February last year, ABC-TV’s 7.30 revealed that the Federal Government gave North Sydney Council a $10 million pool upgrade grant from a fund originally earmarked for regional and rural projects.

A 27 February, 2020 7.30 report on the North Sydney Olympic Pool. Video: ABC News (Australia)/YouTube.

A North Sydney Council statement said Icon was one of Australia’s largest construction companies, delivering more than 80 projects, with a value of up to $400 million. 

It is part of the Japanese Kajima Corporation, which operates across 20 countries.

The pool is expected to remain open until the end of February until being decommissioned for the redevelopment, and reopened in time for Christmas 2022.