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City unveils plans, renderings for Aqua Centre replacement, to be built on former pool site

The City of Flin Flon showed off plans for a replacement to the Aqua Centre for the first time Tuesday night, showing what the new pool will look like, its proposed location and project costs.

The City of Flin Flon showed off plans for a replacement to the Aqua Centre for the first time Tuesday night, showing what the new pool will look like, its proposed location and project costs.

City officials hosted a community meeting June 7 where details, blueprints and conceptual renderings of the new pool were shown to the public.

Instead of being built at Willowvale Park on the former site of the Willow Park Curling Rink, the pool project will now be built on the former Flin Flon Aqua Centre site.

The cost of the pool has also risen, going from around $9 million in overall costs according to council members to an estimated new cost of around $11 million, with a 20 per cent contingency plan in place in case costs rise further.

Increasing cost of materials and construction was cited by city administrators and councillors as a main reason for the increase, as well as for the slightly more basic design.

"There was some escalating costs with regards to materials and construction. I think everybody knows what's going on in the world right now and that impacted the scope of the project and actually impacted the location of the project," said Flin Flon Mayor Cal Huntley during the presentation.

Some amenities that were available at the Aqua Centre are not part of the new project build - namely, no saunas and no weight room, which were both part of the previous Aqua Centre until it was closed to the public in January 2020.

The City has contracted Winnipeg-based Ernst Hansch Construction to lead design for the project and is also working with a pair of architecture firms - Winnipeg-based Verne Reimer Architecture and Carscadden Stokes McDonald Architects, based in Vancouver - to plan the building.

 

Pool design

Instead of featuring an extravagant build with water slides and the like, the blueprints have been pared back somewhat, featuring a four-lane pool, a shallow leisure and wading pool area off to the side of the lane pool and a multi-purpose room for events and gatherings located just off the pool's deck.

"This plan changed a little bit here and there, but this really does fill the needs for the community," said City recreation director Andrew Smith, who presented the pool plan to the public at the meeting.

The pool itself will have full accessibility with both stairs and a ramp leading down into the water. The leisure pool will stretch from about .6 metres (just under two feet) to one metre (three feet, three inches) in depth with a small lazy stream area on one side. An area about five centimetres deep is also part of the plan, meant to be used as a spray pad or wading pool.

The lap pool will be about 8.5 metres wide and approximately 25 metres long, with four lanes for swimming, similar to the former pool. Off to the side of the lap pool will be an accessibility ramp for ease of entrance.

Both the lap pool and leisure pool will be connected, with a concrete barrier partially separating the two but water able to move between the two areas.

The building itself will feature one large change area, instead of men's and women's change rooms like the previous Aqua Centre. Changing from street clothes into bathing suits won't happen in the open under the new plan - the area will include several changing stalls with full doors, where people can change before heading into the pool, as well as bathroom stalls, showers and communal sinks. Six closed showers (including three that are wheelchair accessible), 19 total change stalls and a pair of showers for use on the pool deck are all part of the plan.

According to the plans, no doors will exist between the change room entrance and the pool itself - the building is mostly open concept, with change rooms leading straight to the pool deck. Lifeguards and pool staff will be able to look into the changing area from the pool deck.

"A portion of this is that the lack of two separate facilities means there's a lot less material that's used, and you cuts costs a lot as well with that design," said Smith.

"Right when you walk onto the deck, it is all open - lifeguards can see into the changing area and we don't have to worry about kids or anyone else in this area. It's always going to be supervised, especially for classes and stuff - it really helps out from that aspect." 

The reception and lobby area will feature a storage spot for shoes and boots, instead of at the old pool building where shoes and boots were usually stashed on the floor of the lobby.

While the site preferred by the City for the build was the Willow Park Curling Rink site, a geotechnical survey of the area showed that costs to build the pool at that site would be much higher, leading the City back to the old pool site.

"We had hoped to do something in or around the Willow Park Curling Rink site. As it turns out, with the reduced scope that will still provide the services the community needs, a better location for it was at the old Aqua Centre site," Huntley said.

"There were too many challenges with regard to the foundation and bedrock and such huge costs [for Willow Park] - that was a concern."

The project's current timetable would see construction start next spring, hinging on a geotechnical survey of the old pool site to ensure it will be able to support another pool building. The current plan, according to Smith is to open the pool in May of 2024. The original timeline of the pool project was to see construction start later this summer, but that date changed once the project size and site were changed.

"It was supposed to start this summer, however we had to make alterations to the site," Smith said.

 

Costs

The City now ballparks the total cost of the pool at around $10,992,000, of which the City will foot the bill for about $4.3 million. Funding for the City's share will come from four main sources. First, about $1.6 million of the funds will come from four annual $400,000 levies in municipal budgets, the first of which was done last year, along with $260,000 from a City community reserve fund set aside for larger capital projects. 

Another $2 million is slated to come from community fundraising (of which $500,000 has already been raised), similar to how funding was raised for the emergency department expansion at Flin Flon General Hospital in the late 2010s. 

Grants are being pursued to cover the remaining $412,000, including sustainability, recreation and construction grants.

The City also has a contingency plan if construction costs and materials costs surge even further than present levels, with up to a 20 per cent contingency in the plan. Costs there would be covered by dipping further into the City's general reserve, from increased community fundraisers and or from pursuing sponsorship or even naming rights deals for the facility.

City treasurer Lyn Brown said that current budgeted plans for the pool's construction would work out even if costs increased again, due to the contingency plan.

"We wanted to make sure that we looked at the worst-case scenario, because we've already experienced a bit of that originally. Our application was for $9 million, but then with COVID-19 and issues with supply chains, the price has gone up to $11 million - and $11 million is the sort of energy-efficient, smaller footprint," Brown said.

"We would look at going further for more grants and contributions into 2025 and we would look at helping our fundraising. At no point have we talked about borrowing, increasing our debt or any of those types of things."

As far as tax burden goes, the City has already budgeted the four levies required under the current plan into its future plans and under current plans, can get the pool built with no noticeable tax increase - in fact, according to numbers presented at the meetings, some ratepayers may see slight savings.

"We can bring the pool online, we can be fully functioning and you won't be looking at any high tax increase," Brown said.

"In the 2022 taxes, we increased the special service levy and we ended up with a 16.83 mill rate. In 2024, when the pool is open, we will have reduced our debenture debt by about $400,000. We will probably incur a $377,000 pool subsidy based on our work with the new size of the pool. In 2024, with the pool operating and the pool subsidy included, the mill rate is 16.79. A house with a $50,000 assessment actually saves two dollars in taxes a year."

Operating costs for the new pool are expected to be well below those of the previous Aqua Centre. A new building is expected to be more energy efficient and less in need of constant repairs, as the former pool complex was in its later years.

"Once the capital project is done, the operating will actually be less than the old Aqua Centre. That's good news - that's one of the benefits of the reduced scope," said Huntley.

 

Reception

Around 40 people attended the meeting and asked questions to city staff and to council, with some attendees asking about what the pool may cost, the infrastructure surrounding it and what a pool or may not have.

"I'm very excited that we have a pool, but I'm very disappointed that we don't have a sauna," one woman in attendance said.

Smith said adding a sauna could still happen later in the plans, with councillor Karen MacKinnon - one of the project's biggest proponents on council - confirming that a sauna hasn't been totally ruled out.

"That is a possibility for an add-on. It's a very minimal price to add in a sauna. If that's something that a new council decides on, since this is moving past the next election, it could go in," Smith said.

"I have fought for it, believe me," MacKinnon said.

"The decision to go ahead with a pool with what we really need, that's the most important. I would absolutely love to have a sauna. If we're fundraising and we go over, it's an option that can be added to it."

One attendee asked if the Joe Brain Petting Zoo would be back in operation next year - the zoo was closed this summer due to concerns about construction with the pool, back when the Willow Park site was the only site considered. With that site now not being the project's focus, Smith said that the City would have to decide on bringing the zoo back for next summer.

"The only reason why it wasn't there this year is because we assumed that this project was going in there and then, within the last month or so, we had to change plans fairly quickly," said Smith. 

"At the end of the day, that's going to be up to the new council and whatever the priorities are for everyone here. The community gets to decide that, you guys decide your council members."

Another attendee asked about training lifeguards for a new pool. Smith responded that a training program was in the works that would see lifeguards trained in The Pas at the Winton Pool - currently the only pool of its kind in northern Manitoba - in the run-up to the new pool opening.

Other attendees asked about whether the City's water and sewer infrastructure would sustain having a new pool facility at the location, as residents of Aspen Grove and Parkway Boulevard have been dealing with sewer backups in recent years. The City and the Manitoba Water Services Board are both funding repairs to the pipes in the area, with a total cost of around $1.6 million expected - the City would pay about $400,000 of that cost, which has been included in this year's budget.