Editorial: Norplex Pool questions should be answered before taxpayers shell out for replacement

Councillors split on a resolution to award a design contract for a new pool to replace the boarded-up Norplex Pool at a Sept. 8 meeting, but the two dissenting voices aren’t necessarily saying that the city doesn’t need a new pool.

Councillors Jeff Fountain and Duncan Wong opposed awarding the contract because, in Wong’s view, all the proper pieces to ensure the project gets done aren’t yet in place, while Fountain is concerned about spending money on a new pool before any decision has been made on what to do with the old one, or on how to make sure that a new pool, once completed, isn’t condemned in 30 years’ time because it was allowed to deteriorate like the Norplex.

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These are all valid concerns that deserve to be heard, particularly the points made by Fountain. While having a pool turn out one day to be hazardous isn’t unique to Thompson – Flin Flon’s pool was shut down shortly after the Norplex due to safety concerns - allowing the same thing to happen a second time would be inexcusable. To date, Thompson taxpayers haven’t exactly heard where the buck stops when it comes to the downfall  of the Norplex pool (more than one person is likely responsible, with some of those to blame having long since moved on from working for or representing the city) and will definitely deserve an answer if hoped-for grant funding to cover most of the construction costs doesn’t come through and residents are asked to foot the entire bill over the coming decades. It would probably be nice to have some reassurance that the planned new facility will still be standing by the time it’s paid off in that funding scenario.

As for the Norplex Pool, nothing has been done so far except to board up the doors and windows, in some cases before and in other cases after they’ve been broken, and turn off the lights. The city is still paying to keep it warm enough inside to avoid any structural damage, beyond what already exists, and there are certainly other things that money could be used for, however large or small the actual amount is. It seems like it would be a waste to just tear the building down, but so far we haven’t’ heard about whether there are uses it could be repurposed for, or how much demolishing it might cost, or whether any of the equipment inside is salvageable.

Despite the validity of the two councillors’ objections, there is probably some arguments to be made in favour of going ahead with the design contract before the question of being paid for it has been resolved. For one thing, if the city hopes to come anywhere close to the pool committee’s proposed goal of having a replacement for the Norplex Pool by 2022, having a known and suitable site for it to be built and a design that corrects the old pool's shortcomings is vital. Given that the process will take more than half a year to complete, by the time it’s done it will be 20 months or less until the end of 2022, by which point some council members who made the decision to permanently pull the plug on the Norplex may no longer be the decision-makers. While it certainly isn’t a primary consideration, the current council would probably like to see a new pool completed before the end of the term that had barely started when the closure was announced. Keep in mind that the conversion of the old recreation centre into the Thompson Regional Community Centre took years to accomplish.

For anyone who wants to see a new pool built in Thompson as soon as possible, council’s decision to spend $1 million on the design and engineering is a positive sign. Not only does it mean that the day a new pool opens is getting closer ( which would technically be true even if the contract weren’t awarded), it also makes it more likely that construction will proceed no matter exactly where all the money ends up coming from. As strange as it may seem to commission a design for something before you know how you’re gong to pay for it, it would be even more inexplicable to not find a way to make a new pool happen once you’ve already spent a million bucks on what it’s going to look like.

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