Feasibility study to replace Natatorium in the works; demolition planned by end of year

The city is moving forward with plans for a feasibility study for a potential new indoor aquatics facility.

City staff are currently developing the request for proposals for what is an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 study.

Staff said during the Sept. 9 Park and Recreation Advisory Board meeting that they’re hoping to start the study this fall.

Staff has said on multiple occasions in public meetings that any new indoor aquatics facility would not be built on the site of the current Natatorium.

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Park and Rec staff have also submitted an application for funds through the city’s Community Development Block Grant program for demolition of the Morony Natatorium.

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Steve Herrig, Park and Rec director, said that he’s hoping that request will go before the City Commission in October and demolition will be completed by the end of the year. The city is working with TD&H Engineering for the demolition.

The city closed the Natatorium at the end of 2018 since the facility needed costly repairs.

Nat supporters have fundraised for years and raised about $37,000 in available funding that is being held in that foundation account for use in support of the city’s aquatics program.

The decision to close the Nat came after bricks fell off the exterior of the building in early 2018, exposing additional problems with the facade and roof with repairs at an estimated $539,834 to $613,088.

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The current Nat was built in 1966, after its predecessor on the same site was closed in 1963 due to significant settling throughout the building causing walls to shift, the pool to leak and the foundation to crack, according to a memo from City Manager Greg Doyon during the city’s 2018 budget process, which included multiple public meetings.

A 2011 study found masonry staining, groundwater concerns, water leakage in the basement and other nonstructural issues. The high water table at the site was also a concern in the report and it recommended projects totaling $997,114 that should be done over 1 to 50 years, according to city records.

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Since then, the city has partially removed the top of nonbearing load walls to allow for foundational movement, mud jacking and door replacement.

Since 2004, the city has also done more than $357,939 in repairs including roof repairs, ventilation tunnels around the pool were filled with concrete since they were in danger of collapsing, a new pool liner, drain pipe liner, boiler replacement, pool desk resurfacing, asbestos testing, southwest corner to women’s locker room lifted due to cracks and settling in foundation, doors and door jams replaced.

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In the meantime, the city is continuing to offer lessons and swim classes at the Mustang Pool at the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind.

Herrig also discussed the lifeguard shortage briefly with the board.

“Staffing this year was pretty touch,” he said.

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Herrig said the city offered to reimburse lifeguards for their cost of their certifications if they stayed the full season, but it didn’t keep staffing levels at the required levels to keep the neighborhood pools open.

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The city focused their lifeguard resources on the water park, Herrig said, but kept the spray parks open since they don’t need lifeguards.

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Herrig said that aquatics staff checked with the county club, high school and other community pools to potentially find additional lifeguards, but with no luck. Herrig said he spoke with aquatics facilities in other Montana cities who also had trouble staffing lifeguards this summer.