The city of Great Falls has received a $10 million federal grant that will allow it to move forward in building a $20 million recreation and aquatic center on the east end of the city.
Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig broke the news to surprised commissioners at the beginning of their Tuesday meeting.
“Our grant has been approved for funding,” Herrig said.
The City Commission then voted to accept the Defense Community Infrastructure Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment.
Through the pilot program, the Secretary of Defense is authorized to make grants to address deficiencies in community infrastructure supportive of military installations to enhance the quality of life for military families.
The city announced in May that it was teaming up with Malmstrom Air Force Base to apply for the funds.
And L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture and TD&H Engineering, citing the project’s importance to the city, donated their services to complete a professional application to the DOD for funds to build the “Aim High Big Sky Recreation Center.”
Herrig, expecting word at any moment on the grant, said he was anxious so at 4:55 p.m. Tuesday so he emailed his liaison at the OEA to find out when he might hear about the decision.
He received word that the city had received the funding shortly after.
“Wow, what great news,” Mayor Bob Kelly said. “I’m going to get a new bathing suit. Well, maybe not.”
Kelly called news the city is getting the $10 million grant a great day for Great Falls, especially for residents who have been missing the Morony Natatorium pool on 12th Street North, which closed in late 2018 because of structural problems including a sinking foundation.
The city must match the federal grant with $10 million of its own.
The local funds will come from the Park Maintenance District assessments that voters approved in 2018 to pay for park improvements.
The city couldn’t have built the recreation-aquatics center if voters had not OK’d the Park Maintenance District that’s supplying the local match, Kelly noted.
“This is a community win-win-win all the way around,” Kelly said.
OEA is now working on a grant agreement with the city, Herrig said.
City Manager Greg Doyon said he’s never seen an opportunity to leverage so much public money that will benefit so many people.
“It’s kind of a one-off if you will,” Doyon said.
The primary reason the city was successful in getting the grant was because of the facility’s proximity to Malmstrom Air Force Base and how it will improve the quality of life of base residents, Doyon said.
Pending a successful land swap with Great Falls Public Schools, the facility will be constructed on 10 acres south of the Seibel soccer complex, Doyon said. Initial discussions between the city and school district have been positive, Doyon said.
A 10-acre site would be large enough for a restaurant or retail establishment while providing a source of lease revenue for the city to help with ongoing maintenance of the facility, Doyon said.
Doyon said the city will eventually close its current Community Recreation Center on 2nd Avenue North and demolish the Morony Natatorium and combine them into the new recreation-aquatic facility.
Commissioner Rick Tryon noted that the new facility will require ongoing maintenance beyond the $20 million construction cost and asked if the city would need to go back to the public and ask for more money. The public should know upfront if that possibility exists, Tryon said.
Pool operations are very expensive, Doyon acknowledged, but he added that the revenue structure for the new facility will be different, which should provide a “hedge against” the need to seek additional funds from the public.
For one, it will be used by Malmstrom, and “it will not be free for Malmstrom. There’s going to have to be some compensation for use of it.”
And a stable source of lease revenue from a restaurant or retail establishment would also help, Doyon said.
The city is assessing $1.5 million a year in Park Maintenance District funds.
It will use about $900,000 a year for 15 to 17 years for the rec-aquatics center project, leaving about $330,000 yearly to continued park improvements, Doyon said.
The city is soliciting proposals for a consultant to assist in the design and construction oversight of the indoor recreation and aquatics facility.
At a minimum, the facility should meet current and future programming needs for swim lessons, aquatic therapy classes, lap swim, open swim, pool parties, military training needs, basketball, volleyball, fitness with child watch, classroom and meeting space, the request for proposals (RFP) says.
There is interest in the community to include a 50-meter indoor pool, indoor walking track and climbing wall, the RFP says.
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This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: ‘Great day’ for Great Falls: City awarded $10 million to build new aquatic-recreation center