A Fort Frances council has approved a $1,472,900 tender for pool renovations, which will likely see the pool closed throughout the winter months.
The closure came at the advice of the Project Engineer, retained by the town from JML Engineering. During exploratory work in March of 2023, it was discovered that structural members, which support the roof’s weight, aren’t structurally sound enough to support a snow load.
The facility will be closed beginning November 6, to begin the structural reconstruction, and previously planned pool upgrades, with an anticipated opening of mid-March 2024.
According to Interim CAO Travis Rob, it was known that there would be some structural work needed; rot was visible from the outside. However, the extent of the damage wasn’t known until the engineer and staff began exploratory work, in preparation of renovations. The discovery forced a change of scope for the project, which is funded through government grants.
The tender for the work has been awarded to Winnipeg-based M Builds, which has offices in Thunder Bay, and has had a hand in many large scale projects throughout Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. The closure is expected to take 20 to 22 weeks, and will include: replacement of failed structural roof columns; injecting pool cracks with epoxy sealant; replacement of the pool liner; replacement of HVAC duct work; replacement of pool deck and under deck piping and replacement of pool deck fixtures to meet code requirements. That includes the pool lift and lifeguard chairs, as well as upgrades to the observation deck.
The contractor will be erecting temporary shoring to carry the roof loads and will address the worst columns first to ensure the building’s stability while the remainder of the work is completed. The closure will not impact other areas of the facility. The weight room, squash courts and change rooms are expected to remain open for the duration of the repairs, through temporary disruptions could be possible.
Although council voted unanimously to approve the tender, it wasn’t without concern and frustration. There were requests to mitigate the impact of a closure, which will be taking place during the pool’s busiest season, by splitting the project in two. In that scenario, the first closure would be to repair the structure, and re-open in January. Then a second term next summer would address facility upgrades. According to Rob, staff is working with M Builds to explore that possibility, but there are no guarantees it will be possible or practical, he said.
When asked why this work wasn’t completed over the summer, during the pool’s off season, Rob noted that had been the plan all along. Design work began last winter, with the intent of closing the pool for upgrades during the slow summer season. However, the changing scope of the project make that impossible.
“Once we found out the extent of the work, that changed everything,” he said.
The project had to be redesigned, with new drawings and reviews, which took most of summer, he noted. That pushed tendering to late September.
“To put a solution together, it takes time,” he said.
The pool has been approved as safe for use until the snow begins to accumulate. Coun. Kircher inquired if there’s a case to be made for shovelling the roof during snow events, to keep the facility open.
According to Rob, that’s not a viable solution.
“We’re talking about taking an unstable structure, loaded with snow, with a metal roof and putting our workers up on it to shovel the snow. There’s a whole world of health and safety issues there,” he said. “We are required by law to remove snow from the roads. That is what our crews doing when the snow falls.”
He noted that the pool will be forced to close for the winter, whether work begins or not.
Coun. Mandi Olson voted in favour of the repairs moving ahead, because of the importance of the facility. However, she expressed deep frustration at the situation.
“For me, there’s an immense frustration of the structural and capital spaces that we have within our community, and the neglect that continues to come to our table on repairs that should have been done years ago. It’s challenging,” she said.
“ I guess I hope as we move forward, some of these table conversations we’ve had more recently around governance and strategic planning, that we start to implement these things and really put them on the forefront; the mapping of our road conditions, a mapping of our structures around the community, so that we don’t end up in these situations every time.”