Replacing the Flin Flon Aqua Centre took a big step forward this week. The City of Flin Flon has awarded a tender to design and build a new pool.
City council awarded the contract for the project to Winnipeg-based Ernst Hansch Construction during council’s Nov. 16 meeting.
“I am so, so very excited about this,” said councillor Karen MacKinnon, who read out the committee recommendation at the meeting announcing the deal.
Ernst Hansch Construction has experience throughout several areas of design and construction work throughout Manitoba, overseeing the construction of sports arenas, pools, bridges and infrastructure projects, commercial and industrial properties and hospitals and health facilities.
The Reminder has reached out to Ernst Hansch Construction for comment and information on the project.
Mayor Cal Huntley said council chose the winning bid - one of three submitted - due in part to the company having northern building experience and confirming that the community will be involved in designing and building a new pool.
“These guys impressed us with regards to their experience, some of their experiences with northern and smaller northern communities and facilities. They really sold us on the ability to participate in the design and the build and consider some of the details we want to have in there,” said Huntley.
“They certainly appear very engaged in having a product that’s the City of Flin Flon’s. That was really good. All three were very, very good and I think we would have had a win with any of the three, but this was the one that just took it a notch more, I think that's fair to say, and we were pleased to offer it to them.”
According to the project’s current timeline, the design stage will start early next year and will go for approximately six months. Assuming no delays, construction on a new pool could begin by the end of 2022.
The finalized site for the new pool will be at the Willowvale Park area and the former site of the Willow Park Curling Club, which was demolished in 2014. The City currently uses the site of the former curling rink mainly for vehicle and equipment storage.
That location was the top choice from local voters in a City-issued feedback poll and already discussed as a likely site by city council earlier this year. Site selection will depend on geophysical work that will determine whether or not the bedrock is suitable for a pool site.
“Part of the design-build will be to determine that there’s no showstopper in regards to the foundation and things like that. They have six months to confirm that,” said Huntley.
Community engagement is part of the plan to determine what will be part of the pool project, said Huntley, although specific details about how the community will be consulted were not given.
“We’ll be having a ton of meetings on an ongoing basis,” Huntley said.
“It’s going to be an exciting six months,” added councillor MacKinnon.
No financial terms relating to the deal were released, but the previously announced funding agreement of $3.46 million from the federal government, $2.89 million from the provincial government and $2.3 million from money raised both by the City of Flin Flon, existing fundraising and community donations is still what’s being worked with.
“We have a budget of $9 million. We don’t know what the cost will be, but it won’t be more than that,” said Huntley.
News of the agreement was praised by council members, particularly MacKinnon, who said the reason she ran for reelection in 2018 was to oversee the rebuilding of a pool in Flin Flon.
“I wasn’t going to run,” she said.
“The reason I ran was to make sure of this and I got elected by a large margin on the fact that I was running on that. The population voted for me and everyone else at this table knowing that was our intention.”
The news came the same night as council was presented with a petition to pause funding for the pool project.
Former councillor Skip Martin presented a petition to council, urging them to reconsider dedicating any funds to a pool replacement project until the future of Hudbay’s grant-in-lieu is known.
Martin made a short statement to council at the start of the meeting, mentioning northern Manitoba communities like Leaf Rapids and Lynn Lake that have experienced problems with critical infrastructure after mines closed down.
“Neither of these towns can afford to fix their water treatment plants. Lynn Lake has been under a boil water advisory for the last nine years and Leaf Rapids has been under a boil water advisory for the last eight,” Martin said.
“This is what me and the people who signed this petition are worried about, that we won't be able to maintain our basic services and infrastructure once our last mine closes. The fact is that no one knows what the City will be able to afford going forward until we know what the new grant-in-lieu will be and until then, we shouldn't be spending any money on a pool.”
Each year, Hudbay pays a sum of money directly to the City, in lieu of traditional property taxes - with 777 mine and much of the company’s local operations slated to shut down in 2022, the grant may change in coming years.
In the City’s 2021-22 budget, the company supplied just over $4.6 million, over a third of the City’s total budgeted revenue. No word of any changes between the City and Hudbay has been made public regarding the future of the grant-in-lieu.
A total of 46 people signed Martin’s petition.
Council members in attendance disagreed with Martin’s outlook. MacKinnon said that community investments such as a new pool would be key in Flin Flon’s post-Hudbay future, attracting families to either move or stay in town despite going to work elsewhere.
“If we don’t do stuff like this, the community will die. I’ll tell you, if we don’t get the pool, I am one person who will leave this community. There are numerous other families with children that have approached me,” said MacKinnon.
“My family and grandchildren are going to be living here, even though their parents are working in Snow Lake. The majority are, so we have to do our best to make sure this community is still good for children and seniors who I know and desperately want this centre.”
Councillor Leslie Beck, who was elected to council in a byelection earlier this year, said she was neutral about a pool project when elected but now believes that the City can fund a pool, regardless of any changes to the grants-in-lieu.
“Looking at what I’ve seen since May that’s come to the table on how this pool is going to be financially supported and built, I don’t believe that the grant-in-lieu plays a part in whether or not we can do it,” said Beck.
“If the monies are raised and shared with what we’re getting from government, there’ll be nothing coming from City taxes and we were already budgeted to support a pool that was in place where it was costing us money in a state of disrepair.”
Beck also said that operating expenses for a new pool could be comparable or lower than those for the former Aqua Centre, which required several large-scale repairs in its final years.
“Based on the plans that I’ve seen and heard from those people who have come to us, if we spend the money that we’re talking about to make the pool efficient and state-of-the-art, it’s not going to cost us anymore than it had - maybe less.”
MacKinnon also mentioned the North of 53 Consumers’ Co-op store which was opened in 2018 as an investment in the future of Flin Flon that met with opposition when first proposed.
“People had a petition out against the new Co-op and it’s one of the best things that’s happened in this community. It’s stuff like that, along with the other things people are doing in this community, that want to move forward and save this community.”