I’m a long-time resident of Great Falls and a developer. Like a lot of folks, I’ve invested a lot of time and money into seeing our community thrive — in particular, downtown Great Falls. As a commercial developer, I pay my share of taxes, and so I tend to pay attention to where our money goes.
So, I was more than a little surprised when the Great Falls Public Schools District chose an out-of-town architect with an out-of-state partner to complete their $37 million upgrade project for Great Falls High School. That $37 million was raised through as part of a $98 million bond, voted on by local taxpayers. One thing I recall that was said often by the School District was that they would ensure that design and construction would go to local firms whenever possible. That was part of their selling point to the community on this bond issue.
When that did not happen, I started asking around.
The School District hired NE45, a Bozeman firm that has had one licensed architect for years and looks like they just hired a second. In addition, they partnered with a Seattle, Washington-based firm to win the project. There goes our taxpayer money to people who have not invested into this community. Another thing, a firm this small will have to outsource most of the project to their out-of-state partner firm to even get it done, and that will take most of the money out of state as well as drive up project design costs.
I talked to a couple of the local, competing architects. They said the other firm was chosen because of their expertise with historical buildings. Give me a break! That’s all we’ve got in Great Falls! I’ve done my fair share of remodels on my own projects; some were historical. This project, from what I can tell from the proposal, is basically going to be a messy remodel and addition, with phased, occupied construction along with some historical components. All the Great Falls firms have proven experience in this type of project.
I think the community and the local taxpayers deserve some straight answers on this. I am a quiet guy, I work hard and I don’t stir the pot. But this one really has me fired up.