The bombshell the city dropped on Valentine’s Day in the form of the news that the Norplex Pool had shut down for good the previous evening, after the lane swim, public swim and family were cancelled, is bad news for a lot of people and devastating for some – avid and competitive swimmers, parents of children in the process of completing swimming lessons, and people with physical limitations who need the low impact workout that swimming and water aerobics can provide.
But if the safety concerns are as serious as the city says their engineering review has revealed, it is prudent to close the facility while figuring out what the next steps will be.
Mayor Colleen Smook told the CBC that planning to build a new pool would start soon and that the estimated cost would be $8 to $12 million. She also said that she hoped it would be built within a year. If that timeline sounds a little ambitious to you, there’s probably good reason. The Boreal Discovery Centre only recently started operating on a year-round basis and it still doesn’t have the completed wolf habitat and other facilities that were envisioned when the Thompson Zoo was shut down in 2011. The Thompson Regional Community Centre, which also ended up being a $12-million project took many years in several phases, prompting then-mayor Tim Johnston to say, when demolition began in 2011, that his son, who was in his third year of university at that time, had been five years old when Johnston first got involved.
That said, it does make sense to quit throwing good money after bad by making repairs to help the pool limp along for a few more years, or months, and to begin seriously looking at replacing it, most likely with a new facility attached to the TRCC. The big question that remains is, where will the city find the money for it?
Much like another recent municipal crisis that council sort of solved – the lack of city transit from Nov. 1 until last week – albeit only for five months, the shutdown of the Norplex Pool dates back to long before the current councillors were elected. Mechanical issues have been shutting down the pool for extended periods for at least the last half-dozen years. A leaky ceiling was reported nearly four years ago. Heating problems, electrical fires – if you were renting a house with these problems, you would have long ago moved out. Unfortunately for Thompson swimmers, there isn’t another comparable facility in the city. The Burntwood Hotel has a pool, but it was ordered to be closed by Manitoba Health last Aug. 15 due to the lack of a readily accessible telephone and because it was being operated with inadequate water recirculation or quality. No reopening date is listed on the health protection report available online. At least it’s already mid-February and lake swimming will be an option in less than four months?
Unfortunately for those who live here now, at a time when Thompson isn’t at a high point in its economic history, this is yet another example of shortsightedness in the past coming home to roost. It was easy to put off serious maintenance and improvements in the past, because the people in charge at the time knew they wouldn’t be here when the consequences of their actions were finally realized. It was also easy to sign an agreement that let Vale transfer the water treatment plant to city ownership at its choosing and to be given substantial control over how much the company felt it was necessary to pay in place of property taxes. Letting the sugar daddy company pay for water was great until the sewage treatment plant needed to be replaced and making people pay for it was a condition of the province kicking in one-third of the money for the construction. As Shakespeare said in The Merchant of Venice, “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” The current citizens of Thompson are once again paying for the mistakes of those who came before them.