THE GREAT FALLS AQUATIC CENTER – BOON, OR BOONDOGGLE?
In 2018, Great Falls’ only indoor swimming pool, the Morony Natatorium, or Nat as it was affectionately known, was closed after 52 years of service to the community. It replaced an older Natatorium which was demolished in 1963. You may be reminded of the original Nat with frozen haired students walking back from swimming class to Paris Gibson Junior High.
Both structures were plagued with structural problems resulting from poor soils conditions at the site.
A 2016 Park and Recreation Master Plan identified the need for a new aquatics and recreational facility and earlier this year the city learned of a possible grant that could bring the dream to reality. The Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program administered by the Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) provided the opportunity.
In short, the facility would also fill unmet training needs for Malmstrom and MANG airmen and contribute to the quality of life for airmen and their families. The pool and recreation center would be owned and operated by the City Park and Recreation Department and located on City property.
The City would fund 50% ($10M) of the project cost ($20M) using a portion of Park District One funding, and the Federal grant would provide another $10M.
As reported by The Electric, in May, City Manager Greg Doyon informed City commissioners that to complete the 18-page grant pre-application and develop early concept designs, a professional consultant would be needed to make a competitive application and that Park District money could be used to fund those services.
On June 16, in collaboration with MAFB, the City Commission authorized Mr. Doyon to submit a proposal to construct a new aquatics facility to the OEA.
Subsequent to the June 2, commission meeting where the City Manager was quoted as saying, “There’s a lot of hoops to jump through” relative to the Federal grant pre-application, City Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig solicited proposals to complete the pre-application from three hand-picked architectural firms. A fourth invitation was made to a firm who contacted the Mayor.
Since the project was initiated without a public notice being issued, several local architectural firms were excluded from consideration.
By June 16, a joint venture firm and been chosen to complete the pre-application, and by the deadline of June 26, it was completed.
On August 10, the City of Great Falls was invited to submit a complete grant application due August 26.
Late in August the City advertised the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the architectural and engineering services for the $20M Aquatics and Recreation Center. Proposals were due September 21.
Ten firms submitted proposals, one was chosen by the selection committee and approved by the City Commission with a 4 – 1 vote on October 13. Ironically, the firm chosen was the same firm who was selected to complete the grant pre-application in June. At the meeting, two local architectural firms raised concerns about the City’s selection process.
Questions that need to be addressed:
- Did the winning firm have an unfair advantage by having been awarded the unpublished pre-application commission in June?
- Did the winning firm benefit from a longer time period to work on their design?
- Why didn’t the only woman owned architectural firm receive affirmative consideration as required by Federal, and City requirements?
- Why is the new facility planned to be located on a site with the worst soil conditions in the City?
- Why did the City trade city park property for a swamp owned by the school district when a more centrally located city owned site with ideal soil conditions was available?
- Why weren’t City Commissioners allowed to see the other nine design solutions?
Is the result that a “Foot in the Door” is good strategy, or is it just the “Good Ol’ Boys” at work again?