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One year dry and counting for Thompson’s Norplex Pool

A year ago on Feb. 13.
The empty Norplex Pool during a maintenance shutdown in 2016. The pool was immediately and permanent
The empty Norplex Pool during a maintenance shutdown in 2016. The pool was immediately and permanently closed a year ago Feb. 13.

A year ago on Feb. 13. Thompson’s mayor and council decided to immediately and permanently shut down the Norplex Pool after an engineering review discovered serious structural problems with the changing room ceilings and the waterslide support beams, as well as electrical vulnerabilities in the change rooms and other areas, along with urgent ventilation issues.

Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days later, progress has been made when it comes to having a firm idea of what will replace the condemned facility, but the city doesn’t yet have the money to pay for those plans.

The city has yet to hear back about a nearly $20 million grant application it made to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). If approved, the city would be responsible for 26 per cent of that amount. The grant application was made after consultants hired to decid whether it would be better to fix the Norplex Pool or build a new facility concluded that a new pool on the Thompson Regional Community Centre grounds was the better option, since it would only cost about $3 million more than fixing up the Norplex. The city had said during a public meeting last March that it could cost as much as $6.5 million to fix the deficiencies at the Norplex Pool.

The city told the Nickel Belt News Feb. 6 that Mayor Colleen Smook has been bringing up the ICIP grant with provincial ministers at every opportunity and that the pool manager has submitted 10 other grant applications, with 10 more in progress. The pool fundraising subcommittee will be launching their campaign during Winterfest Feb. 21-23, including an announcement of the first large donation. A request for proposals for the design of a new facility is currently receiving legal scrutiny and should be finalized by early March. A wish list of features the new pool should have has been developed by the pool planning subcommittee.

“Depending on the funding that we’re able to receive, these features will either be implemented in full, or scaled down based on priority,” the city said.

The pool committee previously said it hoped to have a new pool completed by 2022 but it can’t come soon enough for some formerly frequent pool users.

Ben Sewell, an RCMP officer stationed in Thompson, delivered kayaking lessons to 350 adults and students at the pool between 2013 and 2017, receiving a national Canadian Safe Boating Award for his efforts in 2017.

“A community with a population over 10,000 without a swimming pool is a have-not community,” says Sewell, who may no longer be stationed in Thompson by the time a new pool is built.

Lawyer Serena Puranen, who used the pool an average of four times a week and as often as every day, said she swam 309 kilometres in 2017 and 317 the following year and battled depression when the pool closed down last year.

“Nothing makes my soul complete the way gliding through the water does,” she says. “Every time I thought of doing something else, it was a reminder I was doing that because I couldn’t swim and it made me angry. No one enjoys eating carrots when you want to be eating potato chips.”

Though she wishes the pool hadn’t had to be suddenly closed forever, Puranen does think a new pool is the right decision because the old pool was not “barrier-free” and the lack of separation between the shallow pool and the main pool meant the main pool was often closed due to foulings in the shallow portion.

As part of the pool planning committee, Puranen says she is trying to make the new pool one that can be used by the whole community.

“The plans we’ve been looking at for a new pool include a large family change room with a room specifically for special needs adults and children,” she said. “We have zero entry for little kids in the shallow tank and a ramp for people with mobility issues in the deep tank.”