City working to use MSDB pool as alternative while replacing Natatorium

The pool at the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind School now has water in it and city staff said they’re working with the school to make that the temporary alternative for the Natatorium, which is scheduled for closure at the end of December.

“It’s looking very good for the future for a short-term fix,” Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig told City Commissioners during their Nov. 7 work session.

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Herrig has traveled the state visiting other aquatics facilities to gather information about their operations, funding and lessons learned. Only a few were municipally operated and most incorporated partnerships with other community agencies, something Herrig said the city wanted to continue and expand.

The MSDB pool was built in 1983 and funded by the state for a total cost of $2.22 million. It’s 30-40 feet in length, with three lanes and is three to eight feet in depth, according to Herrig’s memo to the commission.

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Herrig said the city would install its chairlift at the MSDB for accessibility and would increase classes to accommodate users in the smaller sized pool.

Park and Rec is also working on alternatives for lifeguard certifications since that was previously done at the Natatorium.

Herrig said city staff are continuing to work with Great Falls Public Schools on options to use the pool at Great Falls High School, though availability there is limited during the school year.

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The city’s plan remains to close the Natatroium at the end of December and staff is developing plans and cost estimates for demolition of the building.

City officials are exploring options for what kind of aquatics facility should be developed next, but they have said on multiple occasions that they wouldn’t rebuild on the same site since the natural spring under the current Natatorium has caused a number of structural problems at the facility.

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The first step would be a feasibility study, Herrig said, on a future location and type of facility, as well as gauging the community’s willingness to fund such a project.

Many community members have remarked that the city just needs an indoor pool, but Herrig said that would likely require the general fund to continue subsidizing aquatics at high levels. It’s more likely, he said, that some sort of combined facility, such as a pool and recreation center would help offset some of the pool costs. Some facilities around the state included daycare and salon space in their facilities that helped support operations.

Park and Rec will likely apply next summer for Community Development Block Grant dollars to fund the feasibility study.

Park district funds could be used for construction of a new aquatics facility but since the city committed to projects over the next three years, City Manager Greg Doyon said the city could take this time to conduct the study and do other preparatory work and then plan for potential construction in year four of the park district.