Citizens organizing for Great Falls’ future of indoor swimming
A group of citizens has been meeting to discuss options for the future of aquatic facilities in Great Falls.
About a dozen people met Sept. 16 and discussed the needs and wants for an indoor municipal pool, models to emulate, the possibility of enclosing Mitchell Pool and the possibility of a co-op model for ownership and management of a local pool facility.
On Sept. 30, four citizens continued the discussion and were joined by the Marilyn Besich of the Montana Cooperative Development Center; Steve Herrig, the city Park and Recreation Director; and City Commissioners Bill Bronson and Mary Moe.
The citizens discussed pursuing a feasibility study to determine if a co-op model would work for a Great Falls aquatic facility that would be owned and managed by the co-op.
Besich suggested to the group that before starting a feasibility study they should first identify key stakeholders and develop a steering committee.
Some of the citizens said there was about $37,000 that has been raised by Natatorium supporters over the years that could be used to pay for a feasibility study. That money is currently parked with the People’s Park and Recreation Foundation and though it’s earmarked for aquatics, the foundation board would have to approve the expenditure.
Herrig, the city Park and Rec director, has been traveling across Montana to visit and meet with officials at other aquatics facilities for lessons learned and ideas for the city’s next move on aquatics.
He’s working to compile that information into a report he’ll present to the City Commission this fall, probably during their first November meeting.
So far, the city plan remains closing the Natatorium by Dec. 31 and razing the current facility due to safety concerns and the significant cost of repairs to the current facility.
There’s been some discussion in the community about selling the property where the current Natatorium sits, but that land was gifted to the city and requires that it be used as recreational space.
Herrig said he would bring the concept of a co-op to City Manager Greg Doyon to determine and/or able to join a co-op. The decision would ultimately require City Commission approval.
Aaron Weissman, one of the citizen advocates for indoor swimming, said it’s important that the citizen group is on the same page and works in partnership with the city.
“The only way a co-op works is with the backing of the city,” he said.
The group listed some of the key stakeholders they wanted to involve in a potential steering committee, including lap swimmers, the FAST swim team, therapeutic users, physical therapists, the high school swim team, municipalities, high school athletic directors, the lodging and tavern associations, among others.
Their vision includes an eight-lane 50 meter indoor pool to draw statewide swim meets.
“If we build this right, we could make an economic impact on this town,” Weissman said.
Greg Hall, another citizen member of the aquatics supporters, said they needed to be sure to consider general use and therapeutic use on top of competitive uses if they wanted to become a regional facility.
Herrig said he’s compiling information and data but before the city would move forward with a new facility, they’d make efforts to gauge public opinion.
“We want to do it right and build what the citizens want,” Herrig said.
Natatorium supporters at the Sunday meeting expressed concern that usage was dropping off because locals believe the facility is already closed.
The Natatorium is currently operating as normal and the schedule is available here.
Want to get involved in the indoor swimming working group? Contact Aaron Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org.