Great Falls Aquatic Center Exceeds Speed Limit

It doesn’t matter how big a hurry you are in, it pays to obey traffic signals. As we all know, not following traffic laws can negatively impact your safety and your wallet.

Most traffic laws are based upon good old common sense. Speeding, distracted driving and observing the conditions of the road are some primary examples.

Other endeavors also require some rules of the road, such as the development of a $20M Indoor Recreation and Aquatics Facility. First, it is important not to put the cart before the horse. In most cases reasonable planning principles should dictate that a site which has been thoroughly examined for suitable conditions should be chosen before the design work begins.

Click here for my article on Aquatics Center cronyism, ‘Foot In The Door’.

If you discount the obvious and the technical planning issues of a particular site, problems will most likely appear as the design process and cost analysis moves forward. And they have.

In a rush to produce the most attractive pre-application for the Department of Defense $10M grant it seems as though corners were cut and caution was thrown to the wind.

First, the City chose a site directly adjacent to the main entrance to MAFB because they felt that would enhance their chance of securing the $10M grant. The site was too small to accommodate a facility of this size. The initial site for the pre-application was known to have undesirable soils conditions which would require an atypical foundation design which would cost more. The architectural program was not fully delineated.

The preeminent error was believing that a site as close to MAFB as possible should be weighted more heavily than other considerations like soils conditions and construction costs. Every part of Great Falls is convenient to the base.

Additionally, 50% of base personnel don’t even live on-base. They live all over town and only one half of one percent do not have a car. It takes about 12 minutes to drive from the main gate at the base to fourth street and tenth avenue south.

The second site chosen was the school district property adjacent to the soccer fields. It would certainly seem like a win-win proposition for the city to make a trade with the school district for a portion of Kranz Park realizing that after spending $37M on Great Falls High School they still were not able to solve their parking problem.

After the city found out that the soils conditions on the west side of 57th street were pretty much the same as on the east side of 57th street and it would cost an extra $2.6M to provide for poor soils conditions. The city manager nixed that plan because we only have $20M to spend and it wouldn’t a good idea to compromise the program.

The City Park and Recreation Director, as previously reported, thought it was still a good idea to make the trade with the school district to help them out and provide a 10 acre park for the east end of town.

Great vision you say; we only have 57 parks in Great Falls. Billings, with twice the population has 47.

The third property looked at for the new facility was North Kiwanis Park. The base apparently said no to that site.

Now, the city is proposing Lions Park, but the residents around the park have not been consulted and several are openly opposed to the idea.

We know that the base doesn’t want us to build a facility that will have structural concerns, no matter where we build it.

The next article in the series about the Recreation and Aquatics Facility will explore Warden Park as a possible site.

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.

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