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:
- 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.
- 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 a consultant was needed to prepare the DOD grant application, the Park and Recreation Director did NOT contact all architectural and engineering firms in Great Falls. The A&E firm that was selected from a limited field provided their services for free and emphasized their experience with soil conditions in the area.
- 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.