BEST Christmas for Newcastle ever. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. While it is now just a fortnight until the ritual exchanging of Christmas gifts, it is possibly just ten more sleeps until the best present Newcastle has had for yonks will be unveiled. Newcastle Ocean Baths (NOB) will welcome back bathers once again after closing in mid-March 2022 for its well overdue reconstruction since its official opening in 1922. Labor councillors went into the 2017 local government election promising to restore the NOB and they have delivered stage one with a result that even the most miserable Grinches around the place might acknowledge as an outstanding job. Maybe. Probs not. How stage one of the NOB was repurposed for the next century was not without a very Newcastle controversy. Speculation of evil plans being hatched by a cabal of heritage hating horrors went into overdrive before a single wheelbarrow of concrete was mixed. The planned installation of a concrete base on the floor of NOB saw a campaign from community members to retain the natural pool base comprised of sand and uneven rock formations like those seen at the Cowrie Hole during low tide. There was no ground given in the campaign, even when engineers reassured all that natural forces would see sand reappear in the NOB. The campaign to keep things as they were on the pools' floor became a magnet for those keeping a long litany list boasting a wide variety of dissatisfactions with the Labor dominated council. Anyhoos, the installation of a flat concrete bottom and ramp at the southern end of NOB will allow vehicle and machine access, importantly ensuring the NOB will not be closed for up to a month - depending on the weather - each winter while the sand build up is removed. That is a big win for the many bathers who use the NOB all year round. Another big win is the retention, refurbishment and improvement of the art-deco stairs and the bleachers at the northern end of the baths. There is loads more seating around the pool, and contemporary shading built to withstand an east coast low has been installed. There is a new lifeguard tower that provides a 270-degree view from where lifeguards can see the entire baths. Thankfully, the days of doing a bare-footed dance across the pebbles breaking away from cracked asphalt are done and dusted. Smooth surfaces prevail. The deck at the back of the NOB has been extended and provides an excellent shelter from a southerly. The non-inclusion of a safety rail - at a time when risk aversion is a key determinant in all government decision-making - along that back deck means swimmers will experience a joyfully unimpeded view of Dr Pacific all the way to the horizon. Two new water pumps (with a third kept off-site that can be sourced if there is a maintenance issue) will keep the water looking clean. The appearance of the water was cloudy at NOB partly because of the many people who like to walk in the pool stirred up the pool floor. Referring to the wonderful NOB walkers as the walking dead saw me catching some heavy stink-eye from more than a few of them the last time I wrote it, so I will not be making that error of judgement ever again. Two de-sanding pumps (one is a duty pump, and one is a spare) will keep the sand out of the wet well so the sea water pumps are not sucking up sand. Relax sandy bottom enthusiasts - plenty of sand will still find its way into the baths via the magic of the elements. The pumps will see the baths emptied in about 50 minutes and they can be refilled with around 6.5 million litres of sparkling fresh sea water in five hours. More magic. Move over Merewether Ocean Baths, there is a new kid in town. New deck, new floor, new walls, new ramps, new lighting, and a new boardwalk. New Castle. To the councillors who promised the refurbishment and made it happen, to the community reference group who gave up their time and civilly argued for inclusions and exclusions despite not getting all their way, to the engineers who were determined to do it once and to do it properly, to builder Daracon and the workers who provided the muscle, thank you. The result is a gorgeous refurbishment that will immediately prove to be a wonderful asset to the city, the state, and the nation. And when will it open? Maybe on Thursday 21 December. Maybe. At least that is what the elves are whispering.