PORTARLINGTON Leisure Centre is on the crest of a wave as it celebrates its 45th birthday this year.
The swimming pool complex was officially opened by then-president Erskine Childers on 28 June 1974. It was refurbished and transformed into Portarlington Leisure Centre in December 2007 and astro-turf pitches were added five years later.
The busy sports complex is still going swimmingly, according to an impressive presentation given by leisure centre manager Seán Quirke at the latest meeting of Laois Co Council (LCC).
Mr Quirke reported that the centre is back in profit after the lean recession years, when it was difficult to keep revenues afloat. The centre caters for an incredible 600 public lessons a week and is used by 22 schools in the county. Since it opened, it has also trained more than 250 lifeguards.
Apart from lane and recreational swimming, the centre provides kayaking lessons, parent and baby courses, aqua-fit programmes and swimming teacher training. The popular gym places as much emphasis on mental health and wellbeing as physical fitness, while staff members have the opportunity to up-skill with certified professional qualifications. The fully-equipped modern gym includes cardiovascular and resistance equipmentm
Mr Quirke said Portarlington is the only such centre in Laois-Offaly to hold the NQS award. This is the highest standard possible and was previously known as the white flag award. The Portarlington centre has retained this standard every year since it first took part in the awards system in 2009.
Other awards held by the centre include a national energy award and a Midlands 103 best leisure centre in the midlands title.
The astro-turf facility, which is used mainly for soccer, is in high demand and has added €40,000 a year to the leisure centre’s turnover. The €125,000 loan to develop the facility was paid off over five years. For the past six years, the centre has had a small trading surplus, although it does not receive any operational subsidies from the county council. Three members of LCC are on the centre’s board of management.
Mr Quirke said the vastly experienced and engaged board of directors and management team was one of the main reasons behind the success of the centre, together with its accessible and user-friendly facilities and friendly and helpful staff. The centre has 31 staff, ten of them full-time, accounting for 30,000 staffing hours a year.
On the negative side, Mr Quirke said there were some “legacy issues” due to under investment during the recession, but said he and the board are addressing these issues with some ‘TLC.’
Many tributes were paid to the centre manager following the presentation. Portarlington’s cllr Aidan Mullins said that everyone in the area is very proud of the leisure centre and the amenity it provides, alongside the community centre and park. Cllr Mullins told the manager: “The only surprise is that you haven’t been head-hunted and snapped up by someone else.”
Cllr Tom Mulhall said that he was probably unique, as the only non-swimmer on the board of Portarlington Leisure Centre. He praised the work of Mr Quirke, chairman cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick and secretary Niall McElwaine for their invaluable work for the centre.