North

Renovations underway on the pool in Norman Wells

Renovations are underway on the pool in Norman Wells, shuttered for years due to unmet repair needs. It's expected to reopen in the spring.

Pool is expected to be reopened next spring

Penguin Palace, the pool in the Town of Norman Wells, is undergoing renovations and is expected to open next spring. (Submitted/Town of Norman Wells)

The Town of Norman Wells is getting the use of its pool back.

Penguin Palace, the town's swimming pool, has not been operational for the last couple of seasons as it has a number of structural issues, said Councillor Alexis Peachey. 

Work has recently begun to address mechanical, electrical, heating and roofing needs found during a structural assessment, she said.

The town announced it is expected to have its pool operational again by the spring.

While the pool is indoors, it was not built to be a multi-season pool and was only open for two and half months during the summer, said Peachey. The hope is that the pool season can be extended to run from late spring to early fall through these improvements, she said.

'It's exciting'

Kayla Turner moved to Norman Wells about two years ago from Alberta. She is employed by the town and has two young children.

Turner was accustomed to having easy access to facilities like this but the pool has been closed since the family moved there. Her children have never taken a swimming lesson.

"It's exciting. It's definitely something the community is looking forward to," she said.

"It will be nice to have a facility where the kids can take swimming lessons and do the activities we would normally have done."

How did we get here?

In April 2021, after the pool had been closed for some time, the town released the results of a resident survey as part of a recreation master plan. 

The vast majority of residents indicated recreation, parks and access to cultural activities are important to their quality of life. 

In terms of indoor facilities, residents were most in favour of a new or improved pool, with 61 per cent indicating they were in favour.

Council was sympathetic, also placing a new or revitalized pool at the top of their own recreation hopes.

To be in line with the public was affirming that they were heading down the right path, said Peachey. 

The majority of residents, 67 per cent, also supported increased property taxes to support recreation, parks and cultural needs. Sixty-three per cent supported increased user fees for these needs.

Second reading of the town's operational and capital budgets took place at council on Tuesday. There are no tax increases proposed in the budget. 

What comes with the pool?

Unlike the lake, the pool is located downtown, making it accessible to those who may not have access to a car, said Peachey.

The town is also leasing a transport van to safely move children enrolled in youth or camp programs, improving accessibility to programming, she said. 

Swimming lessons and other aquatic programs will return, as will a new comprehensive lifeguard training program, which will encourage mentorship, she said.

New pool or old pool?

Council had a feasibility study conducted to determine what would be involved in upgrading the old pool, compared to getting a new pool.

The study determined upgrades were a feasible option. Work could be completed on time for the upcoming season.

"We wanted residents to have access sooner rather than later," said Peachey.

Council decided to go ahead with the renovations, knowing that this didn't mean they couldn't pursue a new pool in the next few years, but it would involve more time, planning and questions than repairing the existing pool, she said.

Council also decided to replace the pool liner rather than patching it to further extend the life of the existing pool, she said. 

Council put out a request for proposals this summer to have the needed upgrades completed and awarded it to Boiler Controls and Installations Ltd, the only bidder. 

The project cost, as per the capital plan, is $560,000.

Funding

The pool renovation project will be paid for by the gas tax, said Cathy Clarke, Norman Wells's senior administrative officer. (The Gas Tax Fund, federal funding that flows to municipalities for infrastructure projects, was renamed the Canada Community-Building Fund earlier this year.)

Sara Brown, chief executive officer of the Northwest Territories Association of Communities, said the association recommends municipalities run a life cycle cost analysis before making a major investment like a new pool. 

Capital costs are often only about 20 per cent of the cost, compared to operating costs which make up the lion's share, she said. The organization provides asset management tools to ensure municipalities have the full picture before investing in a new asset, she said.

The tools encourage municipalities to think critically about whether investing in a new asset is the right option or whether alternatives make more sense. 

Municipalities are chronically underfunded, said Brown, and when you are living pretty lean, you end up making shorter term decisions if you can't afford a big ticket item.

For now, said Peachey, the municipality wanted to give the community "a win" by giving them use of their pool back.

The renovation will allow the community to "buy time" before longer-term bigger undertakings like a new pool are considered, she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Clara Pasieka is a CBC journalist and associate producer in Toronto. She has also worked in CBC's national bureau and as a reporter in the Northwest Territories, Ontario and New Brunswick. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy, Law and Public Administration from York University.

now