As of Monday of next week, Thompson will have been without a public pool for four years, and it seems pretty certain that the city will go without one for at least another year, given where progress on a replacement stands.
It isn’t as if nothing has happened in the time since the pool was permanently shut down as a result of critical safety issues. A design for a new facility has been developed. The city knows the location where a new pool should go — close to the Thompson Regional Community Centre. Fundraisers have been held, with more donations to soon be forthcoming in the form of profit-sharing by the new rec centre concession operator. There’s even $13 million in confirmed funding — $6 million from the federal government, $5 million from the province and $2 million from Vale.
Although things have moved ahead in the nearly 1,500 days that have elapsed since a resident of Thompson last swam in a public pool in this town, it seems like the pace for the last year or so has been a little slow. The pool design’s been around for a year. It’s been about nine months since the federal-provincial funding for a replacement was announced. At the time that $11 million contribution was announced, Mayor Colleen Smook said she was “praying” that construction could begin by last August and said it would take about 18 months to build. Obviously, her prayers went unanswered and that hoped-for timeline is dust in the wind, like so many other deadlines and estimated starting and completion dates for past local projects over the years.
As it stands right now, the public hasn’t even been informed of a total current cost to build a pool based on the existing design, but given inflation and labour shortages, it’s widely assumed, almost certainly quite rightly, that it’s a whole lot more than $15 million, which is what’s committed right now, as the city has to contribute $4 million of its own money to receive the $11 million from higher levels of government.
Some of the delay is due to circumstances beyond the city’s control, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, which put this and many other initiatives on the backburner while all levels of government dealt with more pressing issues. It also took close to three years from when the city first applied for a grant from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan to its proposal being approved, which is part of the reason why the funding ultimately provided is likely no longer enough to cover as much of the project’s costs as the city estimated that it could at the time. The amount that was ultimately approved was for the amount the city originally applied for, which it revised soon after upon realizing that, based on what it hoped to get built, the price tag was likely to be around 30 per cent higher. There’s also the fact that the previous council may not have wanted to commit the city to an expensive project that many of them would no longer be around for and instead to let the elected leaders of the current term decide their own fate.
The fact that there are various reasons why getting a new pool not even built but simply started has not come to pass does not change the most salient fact of all however: that Thompson does not have a public pool. Perhaps if one had predicted four years ago that Manitoba would have a new premier before Thompson had a new pool, there may have been doubters, but that has indeed happened, even though, at the time the Norplex Pool was shut down, former premier Brian Pallister was not yet at the end of his first term as the province’s top elected official. By the time a pool is actually built and open, there may be a second new premier, and perhaps a different party forming government. The process of replacing the Norplex has been agonizingly slow, to say the least.
A year from now, this newspaper will likely be commemorating the end of the fifth year since taking swimming lessons, enjoying a few minutes in the sauna or getting affordable exercise that is easy on a person’s joints were activities that a resident of Thompson could enjoy. While it is not necessarily the sort of deficiency that might ultimately make someone decide to relocate from the city or to choose not to move here, it certainly doesn’t tip the balance in the city’s favour in either of those two scenarios. Hopefully, by the time Feb. 13, 2024 rolls around, construction will have started and how the project will be paid for in full figured out. It would be great if there were also an expected completion date, even if the odds of that timeline actually being adhered to might not be the sort of thing a person would be wise to bet money on.