Natatorium closure likely through city budget process
City Commissioners held an additional budget work session on Wednesday with two members of the public attending and most of the discussion focused on the Natatorium.
Aaron Weissman, owner of Teriyaki Madness, spoke in support of indoor swimming, but said he understood that the current facility may be beyond repair.
He said where the indoor swimming is offered “is irrelevant” so long as the option is maintained to keep people out of the Missouri River and provide recreational opportunities for low- to moderate income residents.
Sections of the Natatorium’s brick facade fell off the building in January and estimates to repair the section range from $539,834 to $612,526 based on metal siding or brick replacements.
City Manager Greg Doyon and Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig have said other portions of the facade are failing and will soon become safety hazards if the issue isn’t addressed.
“Putting more money into it is not going to help,” Doyon told commissioners.
Doyon has proposed closing the Natatorium permanently by the end of this year. Staff is considering options for securing the facility with a fence or possibly demolishing it since having sections of the facade potentially fall off the building creates safety issues.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the proposed budget and the intent to raise taxes during their July 17 meeting.
The pool was built in the late 1960s, replacing a previous facility at the site over a spring, which has had cracking and settling issues, among other problems.
The city looking into long-term options of a combined indoor pool and rec center facility to help reduce facility costs and have additional programming opportunities to offset maintenance costs, since pools are often costly to maintain. That option had been floated several years ago when then Park and Rec director Joe Petrella recommended closing the Natatorium in 2015.
A 2011 assessment identified a number of other issues in the building, many of which were never funded due to other budget needs, according to city officials.
If the city pursues a new indoor pool facility, both Doyon and City Commissioner Owen Robinson said they would not recommend rebuilding on the same property to avoid similar structure issues in the future.
According to city records, swim lessons are among the most popular programs at the Natatorium with 5,727 participants in 2015; 7,879 in 2016; 6,259 in 2017 and 3,169 so far this year.
The numbers are uses per month in the city records, and maybe users could be duplicated in the annual totals.
Water Aerobics and Aquatic Solutions, generally geared toward older residents and those with health issues, were among the more heavily used programs, but numbers are lower than swim lessons.
Water aerobics had 3,801 uses in 2015, though there are likely duplicates in the annual totals since some users attend regularly. The total for aerobics for 2016 was 5,123; in 2017 it was 4,706 and so far this year, it’s 2,538.
The Aquatic Solutions program has an annual total uses of 1,672 in 2015; 1,217 in 2016; 910 in 2017 and 676 so far this year.
Lap swim had 3,584 uses in 2015; 4,054 in 2016; 3,675 in 2017 and 2,486 so far this year. Open swim had 3,584 in 2015; 4,060 in 2016; 3,185 in 2017 and 2,139 so far this year.
For annual totals for all programs, rentals and swim team users, the total for the Natatorium in 2015 was 22,507 users, which could again include repeat users. In 2016 the total was 29,665; in 2017 the total was 26,068 and so far this year, it’s 16,004.
For comparison, at Electric City Water Park, the total users in 2016 from June-September was 27,324; in 2015 it was 24,894.
Earlier this year, city staff proposed a 50 cent increase for open swim at some pools to generate some revenue to address capital needs, but commissioners rejected the increase and the additional revenue would have been far from enough to cover needed repairs at the Natatorium.
If commissioners approve the budget, which includes closure of the Natatorium, staff are looking at options such as offering more classes at the Mitchell Pool or neighborhood pools during the warmer months, or options for partnering with other pools in the community including The Peak, Great Falls Public Schools and local hotels.
Commissioner Mary Moe said she wanted staff to look at options to provide recreational and health opportunities through swimming to the low- to moderate-income residents in some form and again mentioned considering partnership with the Cascade City-County Health Department.
Commissioner Bill Bronson said the staff needed to consider the provisions on the land itself since there may have been restrictions placed the land that was donated for the pool.
Doyon also told commissioners again that depending on the outcome of a request for proposals for management of the city’s two golf courses, he will recommend closing one.
The RFP is expected to go out by August.
“We have no idea what we’re going to get back,” Doyon said, but if there are proposals, he said he hopes to have details negotiated and finalized by December.
Chuck Anderson, deputy city manager, said there is a deed restriction on the Anaconda Hills property that the land must be used for recreational purposes, but city staff is continuing to research that issue.