City, Malmstrom partnering for grant for potential new, joint indoor aquatics facility

The city is working with officials at Malmstrom Air Force Base to potentially submit an application through a recently established Pentagon grant program to build a joint aquatics and recreation facility.

The city and base officials have been discussing possible options for a joint facility since the Natatorium closed at the end of 2018.

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The Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program was first included in the 2019 defense authorization bill but without dedicated funding. Last year, Congress approved funding for the program that will be administered by the Office of Economic Adjustment and will provide federal grants to help state and local governments address infrastructure deficiencies that directly impact mission readiness and resilience in communities near military installations.

The grants will be awarded under the guidance of the Secretary of Defense and require at least a 30 percent match from a state or local government.

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City Commissioners said they support the city staff working with Malmstrom officials to pursue the grant which would allow the city and base to share the cost of constructing a new facility.

City Manager Greg Doyon said it’s a tight timeline and he’d likely bring the matter back before commissioners at the June 16 meeting for submittal by June 26. The Pentagon would then notify which communities are invited to submit more information about their project and communities would be notified in September if they were selected for the grant.

Grants range from $250,000 to $25 million, Doyon said.

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As the city closed the Natatorium after the facade of the building started falling off and the building was failing, staff discussed plans to conduct a feasibility study to identify a location for a potential new facility and whether it would be financially viable.

Staff had considered using Community Development Block Grants to help fund the study, but it wasn’t eligible and staff has been looking at other options to fund a study.

But, if the city and Malmstrom are successful in getting the DoD grant funds for a new facility, the feasibility study would be skipped since the joint facility would need to be started within a year of the grant award and completed within five years.

But, Doyon said, it would still likely require that the facility also include a recreation center since indoor aquatics facilities haven’t been financially sustainable without significant public subsidies in the community.

In that case, Doyon said the city would likely close the existing Community Recreation Center and have a single joint facility instead.

Pursuing the grant would likely require using some park district funds to gather the needed information and develop a proposed facility, Doyon said, so that would be a conversation for the commission in the near future.

Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig said his department could shift some projects from the planned year three park district funds in order to support the aquatics project.

Doyon said during discussions of a new facility, it’s been estimated that a new center would cost an estimated $20 million.

Bill McLaughlin, deputy director of the 341st Mission Support Group at Malmstrom said he approached Doyon when the Nat closed about a potential public-private agreement to build a new indoor pool facility.

McLauhglin said it would improve the quality of life for the base community, support fitness requirements for airmen and also meet water training requirements for pilots of the incoming Grey Wolf helicopter that is replacing the Hueys.

McLaughlin said quality of life projects have taken a back seat lately since all of the military construction funds have been tied up with infrastructure for the new helicopters.

The base has identified some land that could be used for the project and if approved, the facility would have community access.

Col. Lisa Martinez, 341st MSG commander, said it would be a good partnership with the community and thinks it’s the kind of project that the grant program is targeting.

“There’s a really good possibility of getting some money to do this,” Martinez said.