Memories come flooding back

Murray Lopes, who helped build Cambridge swimming pool as a teenager, looking over copies of newspaper coverage of its construction, sourced from the Cambridge Library.

Murray Lopes’ memory went into overdrive after reading a recent Cambridge News story on the town pool’s $16.5 million facelift.

After seeing the story about the pool’s closure pending the start of a massive redevelopment project, the Morrinsville man remembered the months he spent working on the original pool as a 16-year-old apprentice employed by Street Construction Limited, the company that won the tender to build it.

“I was one of a relatively small team, and to this day, it’s one of the most fascinating projects I’ve worked on,” he said. “It was a massive job in terms of scale. There were truck-loads of concrete – and I mean truck-loads! And every truck that came in, I had something to do with because I was there pretty much from start to finish.  It was hard-core all right.”

Despite his youth, the pool wasn’t Murray’s first job; he had worked with the company before on an extensive building project at Waikato University. He believes he is one of few people still around who helped build the Cambridge pool in Williamson Street, and said there was absolutely nothing “stock standard” about the project.

An old newspaper cutting from November 1971 showing the Cambridge pool complex just days before its official opening. Landscaping had not yet been completed due to the weather.

Work on the original pool began in February 1971 – it was officially opened by the then New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake in October of the same year.

The 50m pool was built to finished measurements of the day – 164 feet long and 50 feet wide – a rarity in the region. Murray said that because it had to be officially “signed off” as an Olympic pool, measurements had to be accurate to within one-eighth of an inch – something that presented its own challenges given the equipment available at the time.

Excavation of the hole came with its own interesting story. A house, rented out at the time, sat plumb in the middle of the pool as it exists today, with excavators and diggers drawing ever closer to its back door as work progressed.

“Then one day we all watched with fascination as a bulldozer came and started tearing it down.  No-one was sure if there were people still in there; they’d been there just a day or so earlier.  But it turned out they had moved everything – and themselves – out over the weekend!”

Another house was linked to the build, this one in quite a different way.  Cambridge builders and allied trades joined forces to construct a new three-bedroomed home in King Street, which was then sold to raise funds to swell coffers for the new pool.

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