As they say, location is hugely important in real estate.
Process is equally important in a fair and competitive selection of an architectural firm to design a $20.2 municipal project financed by the taxpayers. In the case of the Indoor Recreation and Aquatics Facility both the location and the process have been fatally flawed.
In an expedited process to secure a $10M grant from the Department of Defense, the City listed a location for the grant pre-application that was too small and presented seriously poor soils conditions. As is true with most endeavors, haste makes waste, both in time and money.
Then the City hired an architectural firm to seemingly embellish the application without notifying all local firms who would have appreciated a fair opportunity to compete for the commission.
The City was warned that the proposed site for the project and the design selection process were huge mistakes, and yet they moved forward. The second site selected, and recently purchased with public assets was equally as bad as the first. But the City moved forward and threw caution to the wind.
The City made that same decision in 1967 when they built a new Morony Natatorium on the same soils-challenged site as the original 1916 structure which suffered severe structural damage. The new Nat which suffered from the same poor soils conditions was designed by the original Page, Werner and Partners architectural firm.
In that Request For Proposal the City included renderings by the architectural firm who was chosen to develop the grant application. Now think about what the other nine responding architectural firms thought about that.
It gave the obvious appearance that the process would be a done deal. And yes, the original firm was given the huge commission for the project. Bad optics at the very least.
Spark Architecture spent upwards of $20K to complete their proposal and expressed their disappointment in the process.
In October, the winning firm announced that building on the second site would cost an additional $2.6M because of the lousy soils conditions.
In their infinite wisdom, the City officials said we need to find another site because we don’t want to compromise the programmed functions for the new facility, or pay more than the previously projected cost estimates.
Next, the City pursued North Kiwanis Park. That was shot down by MAFB officials. The access was far less than ideal and something the City should have known.
Then we move on to Lions Park. The residents adjacent to the park might have something to say about looking at a huge asphalt parking lot located very close to 30th Street.
Last spring, our architectural firm suggested a location for the recreation/pool facility at the undeveloped portion of Warden Park 12 minutes from MAFB, minutes away from the Montana National Guard, centrally located for all Great Falls residents, excellent soils conditions, and convenient to hotels and restaurants. Being highly visible to incoming visitors, it would make a positive statement about our City.
As I said at the beginning of this article, haste makes waste. So far, we have spent a good deal of time and $150,000 in assets in a trade we didn’t need, the Kranz Park land swap.
I have some beautiful swamp land if you are a sucker.
Why should we care about process? Because a fair and honest process provides a fertile environment that can retain and attract professional young talent to Great Falls. Amenities such as the often-mentioned River’s Edge Trail, parks, nice neighborhoods, great schools and an abundance of close-by recreational opportunities are nice, but offer little toward advancement of a creative professional career.
When public projects like the recreation/pool facility are handled like what appears to be an inside job, do little to encourage new ideas and creative exploration. When it looks like women-owed firms are not fully supported by a selection process we lose an important opportunity to represent how we feel about equality and diversity.
Talent seeks an environment for expression. That does not exist in Great Falls.