GFPS asks city for portion of Kranz Park to build parking lot

There’s a need for more parking spaces at Great Falls High School, officials say, and the school district is asking the city to consider allowing a portion of Kranz Park to be turned into a parking lot.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Tammy Lacey told City Commissioners that Great Falls Public Schools is hoping to add about 100 spaces around GFHS as they improve the campus with levy funds.

Kranz Park is 2.57 acres of green space at 1605 4th Ave. S.

GFPS is asking to turn the eastern side of Kranz into 107 parking spaces, Lacey told commissioners Tuesday.

Town hall meetings planned on park district proposal

“We want kids in school. We want them on time,” Lacey said and that part of that is the convenience of parking.

Lacey said that students don’t pay for parking permits on campus and that she didn’t think she could convince students and parents to pay to park on campus.

Lacey said GFPS doesn’t control who drives to school but students are asked to register their vehicle with the high school offices and they receive a tag so officials can match a student to a car. Students can also be ticketed and fined if they park where they aren’t supposed to, Lacey told The Electric.

Through changes to the campus layout and the new addition at GFHS, Lacey said nine parking spaces will be added, bringing the total to 427 spaces around the complex.

GFPS Kranz Park

A site plan for the improvements at Great Falls High School. The portion of Kranz Park that GFPS has proposed for parking is in purple.

GFPS recently acquired the Campfire building on the northeastern edge of the campus that could be used for parking but Lacey said it wouldn’t add many spaces.

“We really feel like we’ve exhausted” all possible options with existing resources, Lacey said of asking for Kranz Park for parking.

Lacey said it wasn’t feasible to turn the practice field across from Kranz into parking since that field is used for shot put and javelin events, which is makes GFHS a good host for so many track and field events.

The portion of Kranz that GFPS is asking to turn into parking was previously a tennis court and there’s a small parking lot there now. They’re also exploring options for angled parking on 17th Street South, Lacey said.

City Commissioners said they were fine with city staff continuing conversations about the proposal with GFPS, but any sale, transfer or lease of city property will require a public hearing.

GFPS has been proposing using a portion of Kranz Park for parking since at least 2012, according to minutes and public documents. Previous Park and Rec director Joe Petrella did not support the action since the park serves a densly populated area of town.

There have been questions about zoning issues for the proposals, but according to state law, school districts and other government agencies are largely exempt from local zoning regulations. If an agency proposes a use contrary to the zoning regulations, the agency must present during a board of adjustments hearing, but the board has no power to deny the action, according to state law.

Tom Moore, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said parking garage options were considered but was “cost prohibitive.”

The cost per space on the surface lot is about $3,200, Lacey said, based on their costs from recently completed lots at Loy and Meadowlark elementaries. A structured parking facility, Lacey said, would be an estimated $25,000 to $28,000 per space. She said geotech studies indicate bedrock in the area, which would increase the cost to a parking garage. Her cost estimate was based on the $13 million garage Billings recently built, Lacey said.

She estimated that a 100-space garage at GFHS would cost about $2.8 million or $11 million for the 400 spots a 2012 parking study indicated were needed at the school.

Barney Danishefsky, chair of Neighborhood Council 9, reminded commissioners about the 2016 Kranz Park master plan that was created through a grant program from a Bozeman firm.

Kranz Park conceptual plan

A conceptual plan for Kranz Park from the 2016 master plan project.

He said the neighborhood has been asking for upgrades to their park and fundraising to implement the master plan.

“We don’t think this neighborhood should have to give up parkland without compensation,” Danishefsky said.

He said the council was generally supportive of the city and GFPS working together but hoped that the remaining portion of Kranz Park could get some upgrades in the process.

Steve Herrig, park and rec director, said the department has applied for two grants through the city’s Community Development Block Grant program, for funding for picnic tables, a pavilion and play structure for Kranz. They should know if the funds are approved by May 1, Herrig said, and working with GFPS could be an opportunity to get those installed and possibly make other improvements at Kranz or other city parks.

Commissioner Tracy Houck said she had some heartburn over trading parkland for parking while the city is pursuing the park district and Commissioner Mary Moe said she doesn’t think the proposal will truly solve the parking issue in the area.

“To me, it’s a powder keg,” she said.

Commissioner Owen Robinson said that throughout the campaign last year, he always said he didn’t want to sell parkland, but the GFPS proposal, “to me, hands down, this would be a good thing for Great Falls.”

He said the Kranz parking option would solve a problem and he was “very much in favor of this.”

Commissioner Bill Bronson said he was fine to continue conversation, but that the commission should be careful to consider the neighborhood concerns through the process.