Missing A Few Pieces Of The Puzzle

Mr. Cahill’s recent piece, “Promises Made and Promises Kept” in response to a November 26, 2017 post, “Why is Great Falls Tax Money Leaving Great Falls?” accurate? Mr. Cahill’s explanation of the results of the Great Falls School District’s use of taxpayer’s dollars appears on the surface to be factual, but a few pieces of the puzzle are missing.

The explanation that $37 million for the Great Falls High School project did not leave Great Falls is true for now, but did not include the fact that the architectural fee calculated at 8%, or close to $3M will leave Great Falls and go to Bozeman and Seattle architectural firms except for a minor amount for some local engineering subcontracts. Is this $3M of taxpayer’s money “a small portion of the project budget” as Mr. Cahill reports, just chump change?

Mr. Cahill reports that it is impossible to know if the general construction/construction manager contract will be awarded to a local company since that decision will be made in mid-February and that “The (School District) Board of Trustees are required by state statute to award the bid (contract) to the lowest most responsible bidder without regard (to) where the bidder is headquartered”. This statement is not true because the general construction/construction management contracts awarded for the Giant Springs Elementary School and the CM Russell Facility Additions were awarded using an “Alternate project delivery contract”. This is a method used to eliminate the conventional construction bidding process and is authorized by MCA 18-2-502. One of the determining requirements for use of this statute is that “the project has significant schedule ramifications and using the alternative project delivery contract is necessary to meet critical deadlines by shortening the duration of construction”.

The School District is now concurrently trying to complete four major projects within the bonding requirements that call for bond proceeds to be spent within 5 years. Is it possible that the District has bitten off more than they can chew and the resulting completion schedule’s “ramifications” are self-imposed?

This massive project could have and probably should have been done

in phases allowing more time for comprehensive design and

competitive bidding rather non-competitive financial construction

contract awards. Competitive bidding has always produced more bang

for the buck for taxpayers.

By using the “Alternative project delivery contract” the selection process used by the District changes from an objective process to a subjective process that is no longer based on a numerical bid amount, but on the selection committee’s subjective assessment of a responding construction company’s dog and pony show. This opens up the possibility of favoritism or bias, which the enabling statute clearly warns against. Would the selection committee favor a particular construction company, or the principal of one, who made a donation to the group that worked to get the bond levy passed?

Here you can find the June 23, 2016 C-6 financial report detailing contributions to the ‘Yes for Great Falls Kids’ political action committee advocating for the $98 million school bond issue. Click the link to see if there are any local contractors on the list of donors.


At this point, one might reasonably ask where the school district’s decision to use the “Alternative project delivery contract” originated since they confess that the District hasn’t built a new project in over 50 years and how does this non-competitive bidding process benefit the citizens of Great Falls. Mr. Cahill is right when he concludes by saying, “Taxpayers expect wise use of their hard earned tax dollars”. Is the adopted process a shortcut, or are the taxpayers being short-changed?

Take the E-City Beat poll now.

[poll id=”8″]

In the next installment, we will provide more pieces to the $98M puzzle. Stay tuned.



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.

Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Missing A Few Pieces Of The Puzzle”

  1. Great assessment Phil. But I’m still stuck back on why the district didn’t do required the maintenance through the years to keep the buildings in good condition, so that we didn’t need new buildings or massive remodels. And didn’t I read somewhere, I believe on the district’s website, that they didn’t and still don’t have a maintenance plan in place for the buildings? I’ve attended school in buildings that were much older than the buildings in Great Falls School District. Age doesn’t have to equate to obsolescence. However, new buildings are something the superintendent and school board can brag about, our taxes be damned.

    A question for Great Falls voters; why do you continue to elect and trust a school board member who by his own admission back in 2011, as GF Humane Society Executive Director, FORGED a board of director’s signature to sign his own paycheck? It amazes me that this person is still employed–period. Do the majority of the voters not know that this happened? Or do they feel it’s irrelevant? Or because he admitted what he did was “a very stupid thing,” it’s okay to trust him, as a school board member, with our tax dollars each year?

    Leave it to Great Falls to give a free pass to those that don’t deserve it while torturing those who dare speak the truth.


  2. […] the previous piece of this three-part series, Missing a Few Pieces of the Puzzle, we have shown that most of the $3M in architectural fees for the Great Falls High project will in […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *