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Editorial: Rising pool costs in Flin Flon a likely harbinger for Thompson

The cost estimate for a new pool in Flin Flon has gone from $9 million to $17 million and it is likely the cost to build a new pool in Thompson will have risen proportionally.
An artist's rendition of the new pool that the City of Flin Flon hopes to build.

People who have paid attention to the no pool situation in Thompson, which probably qualifies as a saga at this point, given that it has been more than four years since the Norplex Poll was permanently shut down for safety reasons, may or may not know that our northern neighbour to the west, the City of Flin Flon, has been enduring a similar predicament. Recent news about their plans to build a new indoor pool may be of interest to those in Thompson wondering about the current financial implications of a Norplex replacement on local taxpayers.

Though the pool in Flin Flon did not get shut down until about a year after Thompson’s, in 2020, when part of the roof caved in, they are further along in their replacement plans, having been approved for federal-provincial infrastructure funding earlier and having, like Thompson does, a new pool design, and knowing, unlike people outside of council and city administration in Thompson, an estimate of what it will cost to build that.

As the Flin Flon Reminder reported March 16, the councillors there passed a resolution at their March 7 meeting to proceed with construction arrangements. The reason for the reiteration of support for the pool project is partly due to the fact that most of the councillors weren’t in office when the project plans were presented at a public meeting in June. Even more so, it is because the cost of the project has risen dramatically since than. And even that price was up from the original cost estimate.

When the original proposal to replace the pool in Flin Flon was submitted to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, the estimate was $9 million. By the time the funding was approved — $6.2 million from the federal and provincial governments combined with the City of Flin Flon responsible for the difference — it had gone up more than 20 per cent, to $11 million. A contingency was in place to accommodate a price increase of up to 20 per cent higher than that. Unfortunately for Flin Flon, the new estimate is about 89 per cent higher than the original and about 55 per cent more than the estimate from last June.

This doesn’t bode well for Thompson, at least not in financial terms.

When Thompson city council first submitted a funding request to ICIP, the pool replacement project had an estimated total cost of $15 million, though the city quickly recognized that that was probably going to be insufficient based on the parameters they were developing and amended the request to reflect a total cost estimate of about $20 million. That was over three-and-a-half years ago. Using the percentage increases from the Flin Flon pool project for reference, that could mean the cost estimate had risen to $24.4 million last summer and perhaps as much as nearly $38 million by now — 89 per cent higher. To date, the city has $6 million from the federal government, about $5 million from the provincial government and $2 million from Vale, leaving it anywhere from $9.4 million to $25 million in the hole. For a city whose biggest ever budget was about $40 million, thanks to other federal-provincial infrastructure funding and about $35 million or so before that, either of those are a lot of money. The higher estimate could mean needing to pay back $1 million in debt, not counting interest, per year for 25 years. Is it doable? Most likely. Is it worth it? It definitely is to some people. But it’s definitely not an easy choice to make to spend that kind of money, which is why Flin Flon’s council reaffirmed its support earlier this month. It wasn’t the kind of choice that can be made without some serious thought.

How much the Thompson pool replacement project as it stands right now is estimated to cost is not something that has been revealed to the public as of the last week of March, but the chances that it is not substantially more than $20 million in total are basically non-existent. It would be good if the current cost estimate were publicly announced sometime soon, so that people have a chance to digest the information and make their feelings known and councillors have a chance to weigh whether they or the people they represent believe that spending that sum is feasible or a good idea. As you can see from the example in Flin Flon, nine months resulted in a price increase of more than 50 per cent. When it comes to going ahead with construction of a new pool, time is literally money.

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