Bad Carma

A meeting yesterday between the City’s Planning staff and GFPS representatives about the District’s plan to buy the Campfire property located at 1925 2nd Avenue South, demolish the historic building and build a pocket parking lot, produced some disappointing news. It could also be viewed as some good news if you feel the District’s plan to purchase individual single-family properties around Great Falls High School to provide parking for about 100 cars is a bad decision and a poor planning objective.

Here’s the rub. The school district planned to provide 22 parking spaces on the 50’x150’ lot which could only be achieved by using the full width of the lot using the narrowest stall width allowable. Since the property by legal zoning definition is not contiguous to the GFHS property, separated by a public right-of way, 2nd Avenue South, the high school’s PLI (Public Lands and Institutions) zone cannot be extended to the Campfire property without a zone change. Any rezoning of the Campfire property would likely be viewed as illegal “spot zoning” by a court challenge.

The only other method allowing for a parking lot in the R-3 residential zone would be a conditional use permit, but as the title implies, there would be conditions on the development to protect the neighboring single-family property to the west. The condition would be a landscaped buffer between the parking lot and the house next door.

The buffering area would reduce the available parking lot area and thus the number of parking spaces that could be constructed. Since the District’s goal to place 22 spaces using a double-loaded drive lane is at the very minimum, 49’, and considering a 10’ buffer-strip, the total parking would likely be limited to 10 spaces using 10’ wide stalls.

As previously stated, the purchase price paid by the school district is $100,000. The cost to demolish the historic “Hi-School Store” would likely be $50,000, and the cost to construct the landscaped parking lot could be another $50,000. So, $200,000 invested using tax-payer dollars would likely amount to $20,000 per stall. Wow!

“As previously stated, the purchase price paid by the school district is $100,000. The cost to demolish the historic “Hi-School Store” would likely be $50,000, and the cost to construct the landscaped parking lot could be another $50,000. So, $200,000 invested using tax-payer dollars would likely amount to $20,000 per stall. Wow!”

For a moment consider the District’s intent to purchase more single-family properties in the vicinity of Great Falls High. Would some of those properties have homes on both sides requiring two “Buffers” and even produce fewer parking spaces, like maybe a single end to end row of 7 spaces? Using the same math that would be $28,000 per space.

Knowing that the school district educrats are not urban planners, or design professionals, who advised them to pursue the property purchase in an effort to solve the 50-year-old parking problem at Great Falls High School? Was it the District consultants from Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, or Seattle?

Is it time to think parking structure, solve the parking problem and end this foolishness? You tell us and the District, too!

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

16 Replies to “Bad Carma”

  1. Michelle Mitchell March 15, 2018 at 4:55 PM

    Has GFPS already purchased the property and if so, what date was the closing?


  2. I believe it is a done deal conditional to the approved rezoning request


    1. Philip M. Faccenda March 15, 2018 at 5:49 PM

      Not a done deal and as we understand it the rezoning condition has been waived. Rezoning would take months and City staff would most likely recommend denial. City Commision could make the final decision to rezone and be challenged in court because Spot Zoning is illegal. Additionally, some city commissioners would probably have to recuse themselves due to conflict of interest issues. As they say, it’s not over till the fat lady sings.


  3. Philip M. Faccenda March 15, 2018 at 5:33 PM

    The closing date listed on the Buy-Sell, obtained by a Public Records Request, is March 19, next Monday. Curiously, GFPS is not the buyer even though they have stated they are the ones buying the property. Not much transparency going on here, but that in its self is not unusual for the District.


    1. Michelle Mitchell March 15, 2018 at 6:08 PM

      Who is listed as the buyer?


      1. Philip M. Faccenda March 15, 2018 at 6:47 PM

        Blum Holdings, LLC, Scott Blumfield, is the buyer who will most likely then sell, or transfer the property to GFPS who will pay for it out of the $98M bond funds.


        1. Michelle Mitchell March 15, 2018 at 7:25 PM

          Thank you Phillip.


          1. Philip M. Faccenda March 19, 2018 at 2:12 PM

            The sale closed today to Blum Holdings, LLC and we expect it to be transferred to the school district soon.

  4. Yes. Time for a parking structure. Go up instead of spreading out.
    Build the multilevel structure where the existing main lot is. Rather than build up on the height it already is, dig it all out and create a “ground level” and 2 more levels on that in order for a 3 level structure not to be so obstructive to the home owners.
    Or leave that lot alone and build a structure where the “practice field” is, unless of course that green space is in fact necessary to maintain as is.
    Also, is there enough room to implement angle parking on only the south side of the Avenue on the north side of the school?
    To help defray the parking structure costs, a monthly permit program could be introduced and costs of say $30, $20 & $10 a month depending on what level you want to park on. Lowest level and covered =higher rate. Top level, exposed=lower rate.
    Consider an award program for a few prime parking spots in the structure and all over campus. Student body presidents, highest GPA’s, etc….
    Students could buy their spot for the year and paint/decorate it however they wish within specific guidelines/rules.
    There will be fines for improper parking or speeding.
    Like parking over the designated lines within the space or backing in.
    Include bike and motorcycle parking and maybe even small lockers for skate boards if necessary.
    Consider hiring an attendant, a veteran would be great. Ok, I’ll be done now.


    1. Philip M. Faccenda March 16, 2018 at 9:35 AM

      Tena, Have you ever thought about running for the school board?


  5. Interesting. For a hundred thousand they could have purchased seven undeveloped acres adjoining the school forty just south of the ball fields. That is the asking price now, but you just know that it’s going to be a lot higher in the future. That would give a nice forty-seven acre chunk of land on which to build. If they actually do build the hog plant, they’re going to need more schools.


    1. Larry, that would make too much sense and apparently, the school board doesn’t operate on common sense. They’re so much in love with their own ideas, they seemingly can’t entertain other possibilities. Sad for all of us.


  6. Philip M. Faccenda March 17, 2018 at 2:19 PM

    From a site named StartClass and is recent.

    Great Falls High School

    Higher Than Average Salary Expenditure per Teacher for Montana
    With 114 full-time equivalent teachers reportedly employed at this school, the salary expenditure per teacher is significantly higher than average compared to the median of reported schools in Montana.

    Great Falls High School: $55,638 USD
    Average high school in MT: $45,689 United States dollars
    The salary expenditure per teacher is somewhat higher than average compared to the median of reported schools in the nation.

    Average high school in U.S.: $52,779 United States dollars


  7. StartClass–lots of data to peruse. Great Falls high schools rated at 6 out of 10 based on such things as standardized exams, school environment and other factors. Not top rated, more like middle of the road.

    Interesting that quite a few of the top rated school in Montana actually offer lower wages to teachers than Great Falls; in some the difference is quite significant. So apparently pay doesn’t buy quality. And lest anyone think that higher-rated schools with lower-paid teachers are located primarily where the cost of living is less, well that would be an incorrect assumption according to the data.


  8. Fascinating Wolf March 21, 2018 at 8:30 AM

    Could someone explain to me why parking is considered a school necessity for Great Falls High? Or any high school, for that matter? Theoretically, could we not just tell teenagers to take the bus, which is freely available to most students? Otherwise, they could just carpool? I assume the issue is that GFPS wants as many teens enrolled as possible, and fear the handful that might potentially drop out if not allowed to drive to school..?


    1. I’ve had the same thoughts. We provide buses for them AND parking spots. Can anyone say entitlement? But all it takes is one look at our current society to see who’s in charge, and it isn’t the parents or older generations.

      Many of these youth claim concern about environmental issues, yet still feel they need to drive cars to school…how hypocritical is that?


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