Pulling The Plug

It may be time to pull the plug on the new Great Falls aquatics and recreation center.

At the December 1 Great Falls City Commission meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon gave an update on the design progress of the proposed facility. Mr. Doyon emphasized that fiscal sustainability and addressing the well-known soils deficiencies of the chosen site were top priorities.

He went on to report that architectural and engineering work is moving at a breakneck pace because of the accelerated timeline to complete the work.

According to Mr. Doyon, the selected design team of architects and geotechnical engineers advised that construction costs for the structure’s foundation on the highly undesirable soils at the proposed site would be $2.6M, or, about $95 per square foot.

The depth to suitable bearing is 60 feet. It is helpful to understand the magnitude of the contributing loads for an aquatic facility. A 50 meter swimming pool 25 meters wide with a minimum depth of 2 meters holds 660,430 gallons of water at 8.3lbs per gallon.

That means the pool water alone weighs almost 5.5 million lbs. Not something you want to construct on poor soils.

The City Manager went on to say that newly estimated higher cost of $2.6M could reduce the programmed spaces in the proposed facility that the community is expecting and the projected revenues needed to make the center sustainable.

At this point, the only two ways forward would be:

  1. An alternate site with more desirable soils conditions for the facility, or securing more funding from the DOD in addition to the original grant for $10M.
  2. Securing additional funding.

It is important to note that the $10M from the City Park Fund, and the $10M from the DOD grant are both taxpayer dollars.

I believe the best strategy moving forward would be to choose another city-owned site for the project and let the DOD chips fall where they may.

A cursory examination of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1965, “Depth-to-Bedrock Map”, indicates two city-owned properties of sufficient size and soils conditions that should be considered.

One is the unimproved portion of Warden Park west of the school district administration building, and the other is Lion’s Park with frontage on 10th avenue south.

Both sites have convenient access to hotels, restaurants, a major arterial to and from the base, and yes, financial partnership opportunities.

Studies of similar facilities list regional swim meets as the top on-going revenue generator. Swim meets also brings money into the city and that benefits a number of local businesses.

That’s why we should keep a 50 meter pool in the program. We should not forget the Four Seasons vs the Metra competition that has held Great Falls back for years.

Most people who have followed the Indoor Recreation and Aquatics Facility process are left scratching their heads and saying, “How did this thing get so screwed up?”

Well, here are some possible answers:

  • When the original site, 10th Avenue North and 57th Street was deemed too small to accommodate the program, the City traded a portion of Kranz Park to the school district for 10 acres adjacent to the soccer fields.
  • Before effecting the trade, a soils investigation was not done.
  • The A&E firm selected for the $20M project is the same firm that completed the DOD grant pre-application.
  • The selection committee did not include any members from the public.

It would seem that the City now owns a 10 acre site suited for mud puppies and tadpoles.

If we can’t do this project right, then it might be time to call a mulligan and pull the plug before it ends up like the Electric City Power fiasco.

I’d like to know what our readers think.

Philip M. Faccenda
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.


  1. Welcome to the good old boys club. This is why Gt. Falls has lagged behind for so many years.
    The problem is none of us stand up to question anyone or anything. It goes along with mandates
    and everything else going on. When will business owners in this town stand up to protect
    there very existence???? Let alone the future of this city???

  2. My lord Phil I mean have you done any research what so ever about what makes communities valuable, and what makes people want to move there? I’ll tell you this, it’s not pulling the plug on a recreation center. Let me paint the picture for you, in words that even you can understand.

    First, communities become valuable, by providing services to their citizens. This means funding our schools, passing bonds to fix them, and paying our teachers competitive salaries. It also means investing in our parks, building trails and bike lanes, continuing to improve and invest in our downtown, and yes, providing pools and recreation centers.

    The real truth behind why Great Falls hasn’t grown is this…
    It is people like you, who believe that business will just magically come to town, when you lower taxes and regulations. There is truly no truth behind this thinking.

    Here is what we need to do. We need to continue to invest in our city, and provide more services at a city level. This includes continuing to improve our parks, building out an extensive bike lane network to support the Rivers Edge Trail, fixing the street-scape problems downtown, and building the damn aquatics center.

    For too long, we have sat in this period of being scared to spend money in this town, and I am sick of it. The youth in this town are sick of it. If you want to fix Great Falls, you have to spend some damn money.

    It’s called providing services to your citizens. A city that is unable, or in our case, unwilling to provide these services, dies.

  3. I wish people who wrote on here would include their whole name, not just the first name like Luke. I’d love to see an aquatics recreation center but we don’t need to spend money on some place that gonna fall apart because of the soil situation.


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