Since 2001 Seagulls Swimming Club with their head swimming coach Graham Hill has had a dream of developing Lahee Park into a state-of-the-art performance park, and it looks like it’s finally underway, writes David Knowles
More than 60 years ago Pinetown resident Henry Lahee entrusted the custodianship of land to the city of Pinetown to be used exclusively for sport related activities. In the mid-1970s the sporting precinct was opened by then Minister of Sport, Piet Koornhof, a one of a kind in the country boasting swimming, bowls, squash, cricket, athletics, rugby, squash and soccer among the many disciplines and facilities on offer.
These days the area lacks shine, with most of the clubs having closed and buildings left derelict. Skeptics would feel strongly scoffing at Graham Hill’s vision, but it takes men of passion, far-reaching ideas and loyalty to ensure things happen in the world. Graham – who has produced swimmers the calibre of Olympians Terence Parkin, Charlene Wittstock (now Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco), Darien Townsend, Melissa Corfe and Chad Le Clos – has chosen to make Lahee Park swimming pool his headquarters. As he succinctly says, “I could be coaching overseas, anywhere I choose, such is my record. But I remain loyal to Pinetown because I see potential.”
Nearly 20 years ago Graham approached the then council with ideas, but with no funding nothing was forthcoming. However, in the past three years, behind the scenes work has seen the proposal taken to the correct authorities at eThekwini, who has approved what Graham has presented. “We are way past that stage and right now the whole matter lies in the hands of the municipality. We expect the wheels to literally start turning soon, in more ways than one,” says Graham. “The plan is to get things up and going from February/March, and a date toward the end of next year has been penned for completion of the facility.”
And what is the dream? “First and foremost, people must remember the foundations, the fields and buildings are already there for us to work with,” says Graham. “We want to create a sustainable high performance facility unique to Durban and its surrounds. It has provisionally been named the Lahee Performance Park, offering state-of-the-art sport and recreation facilities – a place for elite sports people and the community to enjoy.”
Having relocated Swimming SA’s elite training programme to the High Performance Centre (HPC) at Tuks in Pretoria, Graham knows what he desires. “This will be better and I have secured financial support through partnership with the developer of the HPC, where knowledge and understanding of the complexities and facilities are unparalleled,” he says. “Remember, this is a training and recreational development, not the building of huge stadia and the like. We will have indoor facilities and a hotel for athletes to stay, but it remains a training venue.”
Pinetown businessman Delayne Gray has thrown his weight behind Graham’s dream and through sponsorship of Seagulls events and taking charge of the water reticulation, he wants to put Pinetown firmly on the map. “It will be a private public partnership in agreement with the municipality. There will be key elements to be properly managed, there is entry and exit control plus certain areas will need payment for use,” says Delayne. “This will assist in sustaining the development, with membership offered for specific training, while an all-weather tartan track of 2,6km will run around the perimeter – allowing people to run, walk, cycle and exercise.”
These are big dreams, but they are possible and will be happening. It will be a locally driven project from top to bottom, and while it’s a development over time, it will still be in use while work is in progress. “We don’t want people to see work starting and then thinking it will be another two years before any benefit can be gained,” says Delayne.Tags: lahee park, Pinetown