Flin Flon’s city council has announced they will continue with plans to replace the Flin Flon Aqua Centre. The estimated cost of the project has risen, but councillors say the City will still be able to afford the project.
A formal resolution, introduced by councillors at their March 7 meeting and passed unanimously by those in attendance, said that the City would continue with the project’s arrangements. Those include work with Winnipeg-based construction company Ernst Hansch Construction to design and build a new pool and to work with the Aqua Centre Community Committee - as well as other members of the community - to help fundraise and seek input on the pool project. Members of the committee came to the meeting and sat in the public gallery, applauding the move when it was announced by council.
“Council is pleased to inform the community that after much discussion a decision has been reached to continue to move forward with the construction of a new aqua centre,” reads the meeting agenda, read out at the meeting by Mayor George Fontaine.
Councillors are slated to meet again with representatives from Ernst Hansch this week, the latest in a series of meetings meant to get an almost entirely new city council up to speed with the status and scope of the project.
The scope remains mostly unchanged from how it was presented at a public meeting last June - a four-lane lap swim pool, a leisure pool located to one side, closed off from the pool itself by a concrete island but with the same water supply, along with ramps allowing the pool to be accessed by people with mobility issues. The project will still include a multipurpose activity room and a single open unisex changing area space visible to lifeguards from the deck - poolgoers will get changed in a series of closed-off change stalls. The site for the new pool will be on the same site as the old pool, near Ross Creek and the water treatment plant off Ash Crescent. The area formerly occupied by the Willowpark Curling Club, about 200 metres northeast of that site, was seen as the most likely site for a new pool until last spring, when geophysical results for the site showed it would not be suitable to build a new pool on.
“The support never wavered. We questioned whether there were any potential partners out there. We tried our best with that,” said Fontaine.
“We wanted to have all the questions we had in our minds, at least sift through them as best as we could. We could have been a few months earlier if we just said ‘let’s go ahead’, but we felt like this was a lot of money - this is a huge project.”
Back in June, the City had announced that the pool project had grown in price from its original $9 million price tag to around $11 million in total. That price has since increased, then increased again recently.
As of last week, the revised price tag for the project sits just over $17 million. Last June, City officials said there was a contingency plan in place to cover up to a 20 per cent increase in costs from the $11 million figure.
The project itself has received over $3.4 million from a federal government Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) grant and almost $2.9 million from the Manitoba government. The Saskatchewan government has not contributed any funds for a new pool complex.
“When we’re talking about a big increase like this, we have to really be sure that it’s the best option for our community,” said councillor Alison Dallas-Funk.
“Every building project across the country is facing exactly the same thing. Just look at the cost of anything - go to the store and see what it was three years ago and see what it is now. Any project is the same. We had to ask where are we on this scale, then how does this affect us in the future - but we were sure we can still do it,” said Fontaine.
“What were going to be our best case and our worst case scenarios, we tried to look at both of those. Especially financially, we tried to look at all those things and think, ‘What are we doing here?’ and we decided yes, we can and yes, we will.”
The cost of the project jumped shortly before last fall’s local election, then again early this year. The City is pursuing more grant money to help cover the increased construction cost, including an application to the provincial capital fund for around $3 million.
“The numbers they were working with are quite different from the numbers we have now, especially with the increase of everything out there under COVID-19,” said Dallas-Funk.
“That's a factor, and there’s granting as well - there is a grant that they already have obtained. We had to get an extension on that because of the delay. There's a second grant that they've granted for previous council and administration that we were unsure of. We had to see if we were denied, if we were in the queue waiting, what's all going on with that.”
The City of Flin Flon will release its 2023-24 fiscal year budget later this spring, a document likely to shed some light on the next steps for the project.
“It’s a big dream and yes, it would have been nice if it went ahead about a year ago, but we’ve got to look at this where we are now,” said Fontaine.
One thing pursued by the new council was whether or not a new pool could be built on City land on the Saskatchewan side of the provincial border, in hopes of making the project cheaper. No agreements could be made on that front - mainly because if the City pursued that matter, the funding already allocated from the Manitoba government could be in jeopardy.
“We questioned whether there was any other location where this thing could be done, even if we had to redesign. We questioned other locations - for example, being able to go into the Saskatchewan side to build it, to see if we could get grants on the Saskatchewan side,” said Fontaine.
“It looked like a good idea and I had discussions with the Saskatchewan mayors, but the problem is that we would probably lose the Manitoba funding if we switched over to that side. It all turned out to be that wasn't likely going to be the answer.”