Forget The Carrot, Keep Your Eye On The Ball

If you are asking why the site selection for the new proposed Indoor Recreation and Aquatics Facility looks like a train wreck waiting to happen, you are not alone.

If you have been a resident of Great Falls for even a few years, you probably are aware of the soils issues on the east end of town. With their eye on the carrot, the $10M grant from the Department of Defense, the City took its collective eye off of the ball and salivated at the prospect of a big federal grant which would pay one half of the cost to develop a long- acknowledged need in our community.

The City failed to do even a modest amount of due diligence when they attempted to submit a successful pre application for the potential grant, thinking that siting their proposal very close to Malmstrom AFB would enhance their chances of consideration in a field of many applicants.

The first site selected was recognized as soils challenged and too small. That didn’t matter, and they proceeded.

After the City’s application made the short list, they learned that a 10 acre parcel located on the west side of 57th Street and adjacent to the Siebel Soccer Fields and owned by the school district could be available by trading a portion of Kranz Park.

After spending $37M dollars at Great Falls High School, the school district wasn’t able to solve the 60 year old problem of a parking shortage. They even bought the Campfire Girls property for $100K, only to learn that parking for 11 cars wouldn’t solve the problem.

They cut down 80 mature trees and destroyed the historic campus by tearing up lawns for more parking.

At this point, you might ask how our community leaders can be so stupid and wasteful with taxpayer dollars. It’s simple, it’s not their money, it’s yours. That, and a lack of real planning.

Of course, the City learned that the soils on the west side of 57th Street was pretty much the same as on the east side of 57th Street and later learned it would cost an additional $2.6M in construction costs.

During the City’s Request for Proposals (RFP) from architectural firms in September, Faccenda Architects, recognizing the problematic soils on the 10 acre referenced site, requested the City’s contact at the OEA for the Federal grant in order to provide some clarification on the siting issue. The following is the Park and Recreation director’s response:

Sept 17, 2020 email.

Mr. Faccenda:

Thank you for your inquiry during our conversation last week. In summary, it is my understanding that you want to talk to the City’s Office of Economic Adjustment liaison regarding the City’s preferred location for the new Recreation/Aquatics Facility. The purpose of the call, presumably, is to argue against locating the facility on Great Falls School District property south of the City’s Siebel Soccer Complex.”

I would hope Mr. Herrig would agree that “Advise” would have been a better choice of words than “Argue”.

After this exchange, our firm decided that an RFP proposal would be disingenuous when we concluded that the adherence to the City’s site choice would only result in scaling back the program in order to work within the established budget.

Lions Park

We have since advocated for the Lions Park site which is a mere 6 to 7 minute drive from MAFB.

Faced with an unwise trade with the school district, at the December 15th City Commission meeting as reported by The Electric news blog, Mr. Herrig said “that regardless of the DOD grant, he’d like to pursue that property and talked with Neighborhood Council 4 last year about a park in that area that “would enhance that quality of life for the folks out in that area.”

Another 10 acre park to be maintained by the taxpayers?

It could be time to start a new consultant selection process with a new site and program that meets the needs of our community.

Tell us what you think.

And let your Great Falls City Commission know what you think by emailing them at commission@greatfallsmt.net

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Philip M. Faccendahttp://www.straymoose.com
Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

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