Editorial: City must correct failures that led to pool shutdown

In general, people reacted one of two ways upon hearing at a public meeting March 7 about how badly the Norplex Pool had been allowed to deteriorate.

One group said that the important thing was not to point fingers and cast blame for the facility being permanently closed but to get to work building a new one.

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Others said the city needed to identify how critical repairs and upgrades went unnoticed for years because the result is costing us all, both in the loss of the pool right now and in the money that will have to be spent on a new one.

In a sense, both of them make a good point. In the short term, figuring out what Thompsonites want in a pool, where it’s going to be, how much it will cost and how taxpayers will pay for it are the most important questions to restore quality of life for city residents to where it was a month ago or maybe even make it better.

But what is the point of building a new pool if it is going to be maintained so poorly that it becomes a white elephant a few decades later and future citizens once again face the same problems? Most likely, the reasons the Norplex Pool is no longer open are systemic and identifying mistakes and putting plans in place to avoid them in the future may help prevent similar catastrophes from affecting other city-owned facilities.

While we are often tempted to assume that councillors and others in the loop are in possession of much greater knowledge than Joe and Jane Taxpayer, it appears that when it came to the Norplex Pool, they were not, according to statements made at the March 7 meeting.

“I don’t think any of us were aware of how serious the situation was until we saw the recent studies,” said Coun. Judy Kolada, who has been in that position since 1994. Former councillor Dennis Foley said these issues were not brought before him during four years as the chair of the recreation and community services committee from 2014 to 2018.

This didn’t just happen. It was allowed to happen, either through conscious decision-making or, perhaps worse, neglect. Information was not passed up the chain of command, questions went unasked and unanswered, workers just did their jobs and didn’t point out concerns and make sure that they were followed up on. That is the only possible way that return air ventilation ducts could have possibly gone uncleaned for four decades, that the city manager and the only people he answers to – the mayor and councillors – were unaware that workers were entering ducts in order to manually adjust louvers and dampers that control airflow, a situation that apparently wasn’t brought to their union’s attention and from there to the employer’s.

The Norplex Pool has seen its share of misfortune and tragedy in the past few years. A fire in 2017 shut it down for several weeks shortly after it had reopened following the drowning of a child. But, knowing what we know now, we should probably be thankful that there weren’t more injuries, or perhaps even deaths, which would not only have been regrettable on their own merits, but could possibly have exposed the city to lawsuits.

If you have ever owned an old car, you know that, at a certain point, it stops making economic sense to keep putting money into repairs because you know that more breakdowns are going to occur and, in the end, it will cost you nearly as much money to have something substandard as it will to have something dependable and modern. The Norplex Pool appears to have reached that point, possibly several years ago.

If you have ever owned a new car, however, you know that it requires checkups and periodic maintenance, oil changes, wheel alignments, et cetera, if you want it to still be drivable a few years down the line, so you aren’t making payments on a useless piece of junk. At some point between 1977, when the Norplex Pool first opened to the public, a few months later than planned, and Feb. 13 of this year, the day it shut down for good, many if not all of the people entrusted with its care and maintenance, seem to have forgotten this concept. As a result, those who’d like to take a swim in Thompson this year may have to wait until mid-June or so when the weather warms up to make taking a dip conceivable. People with young children who don’t yet know how to swim will either have to teach them themselves in a less hospitable environment or put off learning this life skill until a few years down the line, when a new pool might possibly be completed. Those who swam year-round, or who have mobility problems due to physical limitations or medical conditions, will have to find a new form of exercise or let their health get worse or move somewhere where there is a pool. It is important for all these people to have a new facility built, but it is also important that the City of Thompson investigate what went wrong and where policies and communication methods failed in order to create new ways of doing things to prevent it from happening again.

Sorry may seem to be the hardest word, but all the apologies in the world don’t mean much if they don’t lead to a change in future behaviour. Simply saying, “This thing happened. It was bad. It won’t happen again,” does nothing to address the root causes of the problem. And, as the leaking ceiling in the women’s change room at the Norplex Pool that is the result of excess humidity and moisture shows, not addressing root causes is a temporary fix.

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