WONTHAGGI sports administrators have expressed anger and disappointment at a council decision to dump an application for up to $2.6 million in State Government funding to build a highball stadium in Wonthaggi.
In November, the council submitted an expression of interest through the Victorian School Building Authority’s shared facilities fund to develop the stadium in partnership with the school and sports groups. On February 3, the council was invited to supply additional information for its submission, a strong indication that it would be favourably received.
However, at Wednesday’s council meeting, councillors voted five to four not to proceed with the application, largely on financial grounds, as the application would have required the council to commit up to $2 million towards the project.
The president of Wonthaggi Basketball, Cathy Garnham, told the Post the project would have meant a great deal to the whole community.
It’s not just basketball, it’s other sports like badminton, volleyball, netball. Schools could have used it for concerts and end-of year presentations.”
“As well as being sad for our sports teams, it shows a lack of vision for our community. We would have been looking to hold events that draw people from Phillip Island, Inverloch and from outside the shire. People would have come here and spent their money in the town.”
Currently sports groups – basketball, volleyball and badminton – are limited to a single court at the Wonthaggi Aquatic and Leisure Centre. With limited court time available, at least 40 young basketballers travel out of the district to play their sport.
A masterplan for redevelopment of the leisure centre proposed a two-court highball stadium as a priority in a secondary stage of development, but that could be a decade down the track.
Ms Garnham said her association had worked with Basketball Victoria, Basketball Australia and state and federal MPs on plans for a new stadium.
She said Wonthaggi Basketball knew of about 40 local children playing outside the area – most of them at Korumburra but many in Melbourne – because of the better facilities.
Like many parents, she drives her son to Melbourne once or twice a week so he can play in a higher level of competition that’s not possible within Bass Coast because of the lack of facilities. “I have to stay away for that time and buy dinner. That’s all money that should be staying in the town.”
News of the knockback spread quickly through the local sporting community, with the council’s Facebook page receiving several critical comments.
“Extremely disheartening news from last night’s council meeting,” Jan Clark wrote. “Where is the vision for our town and to help promote healthy youth? When there are great council staff members like Mark Lindsay who put in hours of work to get a federal/state funding for a ball centre, and five councillors opposed the submission.”
Katherine Muir wrote: “Everyone in this town complains about kids roaming the street and getting into trouble, so give them something to do.
“Our children need a sporting stadium. It's a great investment and the growth will have this town thriving. Take lead of Casey Council, they bought the old John Deere factory and turned it into a five-court basketball stadium complex, as well beach volleyball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, lawn bowls and a ten-pin bowling alley. Across the road they have Casey race aquatic centre, and indoor skate and trampoline complex ... what an amazing council!
“Do you know how many parents travel to go here? You would undoubtedly get the returns and rewards. And I would say this to the Bass Coast council: investing in our kids now is our town’s investment, and our town’s future reward.”
In a media release, Bass Coast Mayor Pamela Rothfield said councillors recognised the community’s disappointment and would be discussing the project with key community groups in the coming weeks.
“While Wednesday’s decision appears to some that Council doesn’t support highball facilities in Wonthaggi, be assured that such facilities are recognised as those in need and Council will continue to investigate other means to deliver what is needed by the community. Stage 2 of the redevelopment of the Bass Coast Aquatic and Leisure Centre includes two highball courts, and if efficiencies are realised in this Council’s term, Stage 2 could be brought forward.”
She said councillors only learned of the $4.6 million proposed expenditure for the stadium on the afternoon of Wednesday’s council meeting. “We did not have a chance to discuss this proposal at length or in great detail.”
View from the chamber
The three local (Bunurong Ward) councillors – Julian Brown, Les Larke and Brett Tessari – were at odds on whether the council should proceed with the stadium. The Post asked them to explain why they voted as they did.