Another Bad Decision

At Monday night’s Great Falls Public School District School Board meeting the administration announced that they had moved forward with a plan to purchase the Campfire Girls building and property located at 1925 2nd Avenue South for $100K. The District administration will now demolish the historic building, excavate and remove the basement foundation and bring in backfill in order to build a small surface parking lot to help alleviate the parking shortage that has been a problem for over 50 years.

The property is a standard residential lot with dimensions of 50’ x 150’. The resulting parking layout would probably be a center drive lane north and south with 45 degree parking on both sides. This layout would require an east-west total dimension of 49 feet and would provide a maximum of 20 parking spaces.

“Given the purchase price of $100K, demolition and backfill at $50K and the construction of the finished parking lot complete with lighting, curbs and landscaping at another $50K, it would bring the project to roughly $200K. That’s $10,000 per parking spot and doesn’t include maintenance! Is this expenditure of taxpayer dollars a wise investment?”

Given the purchase price of $100K, demolition and backfill at $50K and the construction of the finished parking lot complete with lighting, curbs and landscaping at another $50K, it would bring the project to roughly $200K. That’s $10,000 per parking spot and doesn’t include maintenance! Is this expenditure of taxpayer dollars a wise investment?

Keep in mind that 20 additional parking stalls will not even put a dent in the hundreds of stalls needed. There is a common sense solution to the problem, a solution used by many urban high schools across the country – structured parking – but the District chose to ignore it early on in the planning process and continues to ignore it now.

The Campfire Girls property is currently a non-conforming use on a lot which is zoned R-3, Single Family Residential. Under the District’s plan the property would have to be rezoned and the immediate neighbors might not be too pleased. But given the makeup of the City Commission, the District may be able to get the property rezoned and proceed with their plan to destroy an important part of Great Falls High School history without batting an eye.

The building now recognized as the Council headquarters of the Campfire Girls has a long and storied past. Constructed in 1929, at the same time that GFHS was built, the building began life as a gas station and immediately became the gathering place for GFHS students and was known as the Hi School Store.

By 1939 it was a hopping place, almost exclusively catering to the students.

In 1942 it even had its own designated student entrance.

Many alumni will remember it as “Dug Out Lunches” in the early seventies, just a few years after the District’s major screw up to replace the windows at the high school with inoperable fiberglass panels and take the fresh air ventilating system out of service.


Given its significant ties to Great Falls High, the Hi School Store would be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, just like the original four-block campus, and could see a new life serving students as it was originally intended. Wouldn’t that be great?

Of course the District has more lame plans for the GFHS campus, like tearing up the whole northeast corner to pursue another misguided attempt to solve the 50 year old parking problem. Something that the State Historic Preservation Office will certainly view with displeasure along with the inappropriate addition to connect the North and South Campuses and turn the area behind Memorial Stadium’s south scoreboard into a storage area for a new CTE facility.

Hey, but what does the District administration and the Board of Trustees care about the historic integrity of GFHS? Six out of the seven board members voted to oppose the school’s listing on the National Register. The lone supporting vote was from Chairman Jan Cahill.

Great Falls High was recently judged the “Most Beautiful High School in Montana” by Architectural Digest. Let’s keep it that way!


Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

17 Replies to “Another Bad Decision”

  1. I’m not from Great Falls but Mandan ND. I was appalled that a decision was made to tear down this building. Besides being a great historical site the trend is to refurbish historical places now. It would be a very poor decision to move forward with this in my opinion. Please rethink .


      1. Totally agree! We are such a “tear down & replace” society. Born & raised 4 blocks from that building. Got lunch there often from dispensers. Spend much less money, restore to a money raising shoppe and help to keep students needs be met. I can think of many ideas that would bring revenue to the district. Seems $250,000 is outrageous for 20 parking spots. I’m with Mr. Cahill for sure! Please think this through and get much more input from community!


  2. Why don’t they find more room to expand the parking lot that is there already? Spending more money then the building is worth to make more room to park is STUPID!


  3. It’s easy to waste OPM (Other People’s Money) on a parking lot that will have no impact on the problem. Working taxpayers of Great Falls, take note of this the next time the GFPS starts their whining for dollars mill levy campaign.


  4. Philip your article failed to mention the per spot cost of a parking building. My guess is $10,000 per spot is a bargain. I do agree this is a waste of my money.


  5. […] yesterday’s piece, “Another Bad Decision”, we questioned whether it would be wise for the GFPS District to purchase the existing historic […]


  6. You could have at least used Campfires proper name. We became Co-Ed years ago and changed our name to campfire USA. in the last two years we became known as “Campfire”. As somebody who spent the majority of my life in this building and putting time into this building your article has made it seem like a piece of junk. I spent 500 hours painting a mural inside of those walls. I made lifelong friendships inside of those walls. It has torn me apart ever since I knew we couldn’t afford to stay open much longer. The least you could have done is called us by our correct name. And maybe you could’ve done more research about what had happened recently so then people would know about the gem that was inside of that building. The sense of community and safety that was inside that building.


    1. Philip M. Faccenda February 17, 2018 at 5:43 PM

      My apologies Maryah, I never referenced the building as “piece of junk”, quite the contrary, it is a fantastic historic structure and Campfire has done a great job of maintaining it. Please call me, I would like to talk to you, 868-9235. I would even like to buy it for more than the school district has offered.


  7. It seems to me that it is time for the good citizens of Great Falls to show en-mass to the next school board meeting and voice their displeasure on how they are operating things. Why would they vote against the high school building being place on the National Historic Register? Why would they want to demolish another building that has a huge historical significance? These people need to have a come to Jesus meeting.


  8. Lived next door to this place my whole life, hate to see it turn into a parking lot. I can understand taking out the rocks but seems that this will be a new hangout. Garbage has always been a problem


  9. Purple curbs dont mean a darn thing


  10. […] that’s potentially 15-20 individual lots, not an insignificant number. This raises an issue I wrote about previously with the Campfire […]


  11. […] privy to already? Alternatively, what if Tryon got a hall pass from work, and said that the plan to bury the Campfire building was a bad call? Would his ideas have magically had more merit had he physically attended the […]


  12. Probably a parking lot to charge everyone. I was homeless for 18 months and ended up at the Woman’s Shelter and had no place to park my car. Granted there were only two or three people that ones cars. While I was there the City put parking meters in front of the Mission. There is a parking lot beside the Woman’s side but I was not allowed to park there even though I have a handicapped sign in my car. A lot of towns are closing their doors to the homeless. Parking should be free to the homeless.


  13. Connie O'Loughlin October 9, 2021 at 12:57 PM

    I’m sorry our commission is so short sighted. Let’s just jump in and rip down anything that has some history! Heaven knows we don’t want to be reminded of great construction or cost saving ideas!


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