Two years and $15.8 million in refurbishment later, Auckland's iconic Tepid Baths will open to the public on Saturday June 23.
The category A heritage building was closed in early 2010, the walls of the pool were crumbling away and the facility, which first opened its doors in 1914, had become dangerous.
The restoration process undertaken by Jasmax was hugely ambitious particularly as Auckland Council, the Baths' owner since 1996, needed the project fast-tracked, but the budget kept tight. Jeremy Bennett, one of the Jasmax project architects on the job says it was one of the more challenging tasks he's been set.
"Pools are complex by their nature, but with it being a category A building so much had to be protected. We had fortnightly meetings for two years to ensure it was all done properly, and every element was debated," he says.
The sign on the front still includes the words Salt Water Pools, although the pools stopped using salt water in 1974. These days it's liquid chlorine keeping it clean, with CO2 for pH adjustment and sodium bicarbonate for alkalinity.
The filtration system is state of the art, with the larger pool changed out fully every three hours. Previous pool users might notice that pool's changed position slightly too - it's been moved along and shortened from the original 33m, to create room for changing rooms at the far end.
Right from the moment you step in the door, the facility's heritage is on show from the old rusty metal pool struts in a display case, to the curved reception desks which are a hark back to 1914 when they were also curved. Outside there's an artwork on the frontage that features rusty trusses from the old pool. Mr Bennett describes the artwork as "celebrating the rust".
"We wanted it to be eye-catching... it has a shipyard feel to it," he says. The neon sign put up in the 1950s has also been restored, and lights up the 9m chimney stack.
The panelling on the ceiling in the reception area replicates the 1914 original, and the poolside cabana (changing-room) doors look old fashioned but modern inside. Four of those cabanas are larger family-sized ones, where you can get all the kids changed together. You half expect someone from the 1920s to pop out from behind in their bathing cap and square-shaped swimsuit.
Workers scraped back the paint on the walls and doors to discover what lay beneath in the original incarnation and have replicated that wherever possible. However gone is the red concourse - that's been replaced with a much subtler shade of grey.
The signs for the Tepid Baths are written in what's now being described as the Tepid Bath font. It came from signs created in a promotion in the 1940s but which council decided looked good and wanted to keep. Mr Bennett recreated the font and the results are seen in the handcut signs around the facility.
In days gone by women had to traipse poolside to the communal changing rooms at the back, bringing in the dirt from their outdoor shoes with them. The women's changing rooms, in stark black and white tiles, are at the front with the men's. A wonderful old picture on the wall reflects a time when ladies didn't really come to swim, they came to bathe and loll.
LADIES AND LEARNERS
The ladies and learners' pool is 15m, and .8m at the shallow end, 1.2m at the deep end. Above the learners' pool are baskets of real-looking flowers (they're not) hanging down like they did in the 1910s and 20s.
The main pool is 25m, 8m shorter than the original but in keeping with metrics. It's also one lane wider than before, with seven lanes. The pool is 1.1m at the shallow end and 2.1m at the deep end.
Tucked away under the wooden seats around the pool are the pool covers, which are brought out at night to maintain the pool temperature and ensure good power savings.
There are four filters keeping the pools clean - the water in the smaller pool is effectively replaced every 1.5 hours, the larger every three hours, with state of the art filters. The spa has a full water turnover every 30 minutes.
Above the pools the high skylight brings in natural light. Gone are the rusty steel beams and roof that had been patched up over the years, but had deteriorated so dramatically as to be a safety issue.
"The space used to feel quite oppressive," explains Mr Bennett. "But the high roofs and the skylight stop that and in summer you can also let in fresh air as well."
Council had advice that people often didn't realise what lay beneath the walls when they walked past the building on Customs Street. Now there is no doubt - the public can see in, through large panes of glass.
"We're yet to see how people will feel about being seen in their swimming costumes though," Mr Bennett laughs.
The work done on the main pool was a massive task in itself.
"The whole pool had to be reconstructed because the beach sand walls had basically fallen apart from the salt water," Mr Bennett explains. "Getting underground was hardest."
Along the way they found a few strange bits and pieces, including a plaster head whose origins they're still unsure about.
"There was rumours it might be something to do with the city morgue that was built across the road about ten years before," says Anita Coy-Macken, principal policy analyst from Auckland Council. "But people could be having us on, we still don't really know."
HOPES FOR RETURN TO HEYDAY
In its heyday the Tepid Baths attracted around 250,000 people a year, but ahead of its closure that was down to 195,000.
Centre Manager Davin Bray says the revamped facility has high hopes for big numbers again.
"Things have changed in this area, it used to mainly be corporates who used it but now there hundreds of apartments all around here so we're hoping those people come and use it as well," he says.
The goal is to get 250,000 to 300,000 members.
As well as changes to the pools, the gym is the biggest change. Previously gym gear was found poolside, now it's upstairs in a state-of-the-art facility. The pool hasn't been forgotten there though - a structural glass floor across the middle of the gym means you can look down on the pool below if the light is right. Again there's a skylight above, reflecting the design from downstairs.
The gym area features $400,000 worth of hi-tech Cybex gym equipment including virtual cycles that move as you turn corners. "They're a full body workout," explains gym manager Lucy Lloyd-Barker. "It's actually pretty tough, you can't last on them for long."
But if you're one of those people who gets bored on the treadmill, you won't in this gym. Each is fitted with its own TV screen and 10 channels.
"We'd like to get 1200 members in the fitness area," says Mr Bray. "That would be good. The big pool can fit around 60 in at any one time, but there's a lot more space in the whole facility now with the gym upstairs."
There are also two wheelchair friendly cardio machines that look rather like a grinder, and Ms Lloyd-Barker says they are excellent for people who want an upper cardio workout but may not have full use of their legs.
There are 16 full and part-time staff in the whole facility and 12 swim instructors.
At $22.50 a week, no joining fee, for the whole facility it's good value for access to gym, spa, pools. It will be open for longer hours than it was previously - from 5.30am to 9pm on weekdays and 7am-7pm on the weekends.
One of those who's sure to be seen at the pools when they open is the council's Ms Coy-Macken who has worked on the project for two and a half years.
"It's been my dream job," she admits, and the memory bank of facts and figures she can spout about the pools and their history is proof of that.
But there's another good reason. She's a former New Zealand swimming representative in 100m butterfly. She'll get the chance to dust off the togs - along with the rest of Auckland - when the pool opens for regular business on Sunday June 24 at 7am.
* See next week's The Aucklander for more of a sneak peek inside the Tepid Baths before they open to the public.
See the Herald's video here.
WHEN Saturday June 23 11am with a walk-through self-guided tour of the Tepid Baths. Tour will end on Customs St with a free sausage sizzle. (Space is limited and will be controlled on a first-come first served basis.)
Midday - official opening ceremony with Mayor Len Brown and Waitemata Local Board Chair Shale Chambers, featuring a breaking of the water ceremony with two Auckland swimmers.
Free tickets to the swim sessions on that day are fully subscribed, and additional swimmers are not possible. (Pool opens for normal business 7am Sunday).
COSTS: Swimming adults $6.50; children $4; seniors and CSC $5.20