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Editorial: City equipment replacement doesn’t inspire confidence, especially after past maintenance failures

Not keeping on top of maintenance can come with a hefty price tag, as proved by the permanent shutdown of the Norplex Pool nearly three years ago.
trcc fitness centre stock
By the time a problem was detected with a rooftop heating and cooling unit above the Thompson Regional Community Centre fitness centre and another over the Mary Fenske Boardroom, repair was no longer an option and the two units had to be replaced.

In the grand scheme of things, the fact that the City of Thompson is having to spend about $27,000 to replace two rooftop heating and cooling units at the Thompson Regional Community Centre is not the biggest of deals. When looking at the big picture, it’s not a lot of money and the good news is that four of the six rooftop units are still working.

At a slightly deeper level, however, the news is somewhat concerning.

Maintaining things isn’t exactly the city’s strong suit. In fact, it may be one of the biggest complaints residents have about their local government, alongside its difficulty getting all or at least some of Thompson’s streets well cleared of snow during winter (which, it turns out, is a long and snowy season in Northern Manitoba) and the number of people hanging around outside the doors at Walmart and/or the location fo the new Liquor Mart. Those last two aren’t things the city has or had any control over, of course, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t one of the top complaints people have about them, unfortunately.

The maintenance issue, however, is at the forefront of people’s minds because, as some of you may remember, almost three years ago now the city had to shut down the Norplex Pool because of a wide range of issues that made it a safety hazard, at least some of which seem to have been the result of poor maintenance. At the time the pool closed down, city manager Anthony McInnis told a crowd at the high school auditorium that there were 10-inch air ducts filled with dust, which may not have been cleaned since the pool opened 40 years earlier.

The fact that two of the heating and cooling units at the Norplex Pool stopped working is not necessarily remarkable. Machinery that operates around the clock every day of the year for years on end is pretty likely to fail at some point. What’s more concerning is the fact that after the units were found to have failed, they were already at the point where they could not be repaired, which would have been cheaper, but had to be replaced entirely. This would seem to indicate that people whose job it is to know what’s happening at city facilities and what needs repairs or new parts were not aware of it. It’s doubly concerning when both of these instances occurred within the recreation department, which take sup a fair chunk of the city’s annual budget and is responsible for some of its most-used facilities, a group that included the Norplex Pool back when it was still operational. The outright and permanent closure of the pool came as a shock to most of Thompson, even including the members of the council that made the tough decision to shut it down. That it was not in good condition, however, should not have been too much of a surprise, given the number of unscheduled closures it had, at least one of them due to a fire, in the months and years leading up to its condemnation.

The City of Thompson can’t be expected to never need to replace equipment. All of us have had to replace or repair something of our own at one time or another, and sometimes more often than people in places where temperatures are less punishing, a factor that especially affects equipment operating outside. But when not staying on top of maintenance or even being aware of what bad shape things are in before they are no longer usable at all starts to become a pattern, taxpayers are within their rights to question what else is on its last legs or even potentially dangerous, because they can’t be confident that anybody knows the answer for sure.