Renovations underway on the swimming pool at Norman Wells
The Town of Norman Wells recovers the use of its swimming pool.
Penguin Palace, the city’s swimming pool, has not been operational for the past two seasons because it has a number of structural issues, Councilor Alexis Peachey said.
Work has recently started to address the mechanical, electrical, heating and roofing needs discovered during a structural assessment, she said.
The city has announced that it is expected to return its swimming pool to service by spring.
Although the pool is indoors, it was not designed to be a multi-season pool and was only open for two and a half months during the summer, Peachey said. The hope is that the swimming pool season can be extended from late spring to early fall with these improvements, she said.
Kayla Turner moved to Norman Wells about two years ago from Alberta. She is employed by the city and has two young children.
Turner used to have easy access to facilities like this, but the pool has been closed since the family moved in. Her children have never taken swimming lessons.
“It’s exciting. It’s definitely something the community is looking forward to,” she said.
“It will be good to have a facility where the kids can take swimming lessons and do the activities that we would normally do.”
How did we get here?
In April 2021, after the pool had been closed for a while, the city released the results of a resident survey as part of a recreation master plan.
The vast majority of residents indicated that recreation, parks and access to cultural activities are important to their quality of life.
When it came to indoor facilities, residents were most in favor of a new or improved pool, with 61 percent indicating they were in favor.
The advice was sympathetic, also placing a new or revitalized swimming pool at the top of their own recreation hopes.
To be in tune with the audience was to say they were on the right track, Peachey said.
The majority of residents, 67 percent, were also in favor of increasing property taxes to support recreation, parks and cultural needs. Sixty-three percent supported an increase in user fees for these needs.
The second reading of the city’s operating and investment budgets took place in council on Tuesday. No tax increase is 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, Peachey said.
The city also rents a transport van to safely move children enrolled in youth programs or camps, improving accessibility to the programs, she said.
Swimming lessons and other aquatic programs will be back, as will a comprehensive new lifeguard training program, which will encourage mentoring, she said.
New pool or old pool?
The Council had a feasibility study carried out to determine what the upgrading of the old swimming pool would involve, compared to the purchase of a new swimming pool.
The study determined that the upgrades were a feasible option. The work could be completed in time for the next season.
“We wanted residents to have access as soon as possible,” Peachey said.
The board decided to go ahead with the renovations, knowing that this didn’t mean they couldn’t pursue a new pool for the next few years, but it would involve more time, planning and questions than to repair the existing pool, she said.
The board also decided to replace the pool liner rather than repairing it to extend the life of the existing pool, she said.
The Board issued a tender this summer to have the necessary upgrades completed and awarded it to Boiler Controls and Installations Ltd, the sole bidder.
The cost of the project, according to the capital plan, is $ 560,000.
The pool renovation project will be funded by the gas tax, said Cathy Clarke, senior executive director of Norman Wells. (The Gas Tax Fund, federal funding that goes to municipalities for infrastructure projects, was renamed the Canada Community Development Fund earlier this year.)
Sara Brown, executive director of the Association of Northwest Territories Communities, said the association recommends that municipalities perform a life cycle cost analysis before making a major investment like a new pool.
Capital costs are often only about 20 percent of the cost, compared to operating costs which take the lion’s share, she said. The organization provides asset management tools to ensure municipalities have the big 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, Brown said, and when you live lean enough, you end up making shorter-term decisions if you can’t afford a big item.
For now, said Peachey, the municipality wanted to give the community “a victory” by returning the use of its swimming pool to them.
The renovation will allow the community to “buy time” before larger, long-term businesses, like a new swimming pool, are considered, she said.