Costly repairs and maintenance are forcing Northland schools to scramble for cash to keep their swimming pools afloat or close them, depriving students of basic aquatic skills.

It costs more than $10,000 a year to maintain each pool but for Whangārei Primary School, $276,567 is urgently required for repairs for the nearly century-old pool.

Built in 1925, it was originally a public pool before its ownership was passed on to the school around the 1970s or '80s.

A new pump and filter systems were installed in 1965 and despite regular maintenance, the pool has reached a point where it's beyond repair. The 33m-long pool has not been used since November last year.

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Principal Martin Van Rijswijk is asking for public help to meet extraordinary repair costs and the school has set up a Givealittle page and reached out to potential donors.

He said the entire pool pump, filter and plumbing systems would need to be replaced, electrical wiring upgraded, and a new vacuum system installed that would cost nearly $200,000.

An additional $77,500 is needed to upgrade changing facilities and for other work.

"The Board of Trustees want to get the pool ready for the start of next summer which is a very ambitious target but we are determined because we see the pool as an essential part of children's education," Van Rijswijk said.

"There must be a lot of swimming club members and others who learnt swimming in this pool and even $5 or $10 from them will go a long way to help the next generation of children learn to swim."

In the past decade, he said a lack of funding had forced many schools in New Zealand, including Northland, to close their pools.

Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman said schools did not get enough funding in their maintenance budget to cover costs associated with maintaining school pools.

"It's absolutely crucial in Northland that our children learn to swim. Perhaps the [Education] Ministry needs to look at providing a helping hand because it's not feasible for schools to send children to the public pool.

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"The problem is successive governments tried to balance their books by running school assets such as swimming pools to the ground and it's all coming home to roost," Newman said.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills said from a drowning and prevention perspective, more and more children were coming out of schools without basic water safety skills.

"From our perspective that's a real concern. It's imperative that every child comes out of the education system with basic water safety skills so they can go and enjoy water."

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills says it's imperative every child comes out of the education system with basic water safety skills. Photo / Supplied
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills says it's imperative every child comes out of the education system with basic water safety skills. Photo / Supplied

The Ministry of Education said all schools could access money for pool maintenance either through board funding for property projects or a five-year allocation for essential work.

Acting head of education infrastructure services Sharyn Pilbrow said all schools received the same amount of operational funding whether or not they had a pool.

That was because schools that had pools must pay to keep them operational, and those that did not would have transport or other costs to use a shared pool.

"Swimming is an important part of the New Zealand curriculum and schools are required to provide all students with opportunities to learn basic aquatic skills by the end of Year 6."

She said schools should contact their local ministry office for more information about applying for an exemption to upgrade an older pool where exceptions could be made based on their individual circumstances.

• Go to givealittle.co.nz/cause/whangarei-primary-school-pool to donate towards Whangārei Primary School pool repairs.