The hundred-odd people who showed up to a public meeting about the Norplex Pool closure March 7 left knowing plenty about why the facility had to be permanently shut down but far less about when a new pool might be built and where the money to do that is going to come from.
The mayor, council and city staff heard repeatedly from residents about how important having a pool was to them as individuals and to Thompson, for both practical and symbolic reasons.
City manager Anthony McInnis said near the end of his presentation detailing the issues that prompted the decision to permanently close the pool that the cost of repairs and upgrades to make it safe and up to code would range from $3.9 to $6.5 million but didn’t provide a specific dollar figure for how much it will cost to construct a new pool. The city is currently in the process of seeking out grants to help fund an engineering study for the development of a new pool. Such a study would take, optimistically, nine months to complete before the project was shovel-ready, McInnis said.
The decision to shut down the pool was based on the city’s own engineering assessments as well as some conducted by outside organizations, including mechanical and electrical evaluations from 2014 and 2015 that identified needed repairs and upgrades with price tags of $629,000 and $3.5 million, plus or minus 25 per cent, respectively.
The city’s most recent assessment was the result of a meeting with pool staff in late January.
“They said there’s bigger problems that you’ve really got to look at,” McInnis said and a tour by council just before the shutdown was announced underlined how serious those problems were. “As we were walking through the building, water literally started pouring on the transformer.”
Among the needed repairs and upgrades identified were a new dehumidifying system for the building, with a price tag of $600,000 to purchase and install, a new electrical panel costing $700,000, new louvers and dampers in the ventilation system, with a price tag of $500,000, and rerouting of return air ducts at a cost of $200,000.
Staff have been crawling into the large ducts to manually adjust the louvers because the computerized control system is no longer functional and McInnis said it appeared that there were ducts that hadn’t been cleaned since the pol opened 40 years ago, as 10-inch ducts were practically full.
In addition, the supports for the waterslide are starting to rust and replacing them would cost an estimated $250,000.
Initial reactions to McInnis’s presentation were full of disbelief.
“How on earth did it pass inspections to remain open?” asked Danielle Adams.
“We are beginning those discussions with out counterparts,” McInnis said. “We have some of the same questions.”
Others in the audience outlined to council how important having a pool is.
“The only thing that’s saving my life is going to the pool,” said Vanessa Stratton. “That’s all I can do. The pool was everything.”
“This breaks my heart,” said Serena Puranen. “You have taken away the only thing that brought me peace. I can’t function without a pool. I think there is still some benefit to finding out how it got this bad so we don’t do it again.”
The general feeling of those who spoke out was that the city needs to move ahead quickly with plans for a new pool and abandon any plans of refurbishing the Norplex Pool.
McInnis said that every $1 million the city borrows adds up to a one per cent tax increase for the number of years that it takes to pay back.
Deputy mayor Kathy Valentino will chair the ad-hoc committee studying how to build a new pool and Mayor Colleen Smook said this meeting wasn’t so much to provide answers about when a facility might be built but to explain council’s decision to close it and hear what people who use the pool want.
“It may sound like we don’t have a lot of ideas but we thought it was important to hear you first,” she said.