Commission votes to apply for $10 million federal grant for joint aquatics facility; use park district funds to match

The city’s application for a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense is moving forward for a potential joint indoor aquatics and recreation facility for Great Falls and Malmstrom Air Force Base.

City Commissioners voted unanimously during their June 16 meeting to authorize the city manager to submit a proposal to the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program and also to acknowledge that the city’s $10 million match would come from park maintenance district funds if the grant is awarded.

Under the grant rules, the facility must be owned by the city and for the proposal a property on 57th Street near the base’s 10th Street gate has been identified for the project. The facility would be outside the base gate and would be publicly accessible.

City Manager Greg Doyon said during the June 16 work session that there are discussions regarding other potential properties but he wasn’t ready to mention them publicly yet since they are preliminary.

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There are also discussions between the city and Malmstrom for the city to acquire an adjacent parcel to the city’s piece in the conceptual plan, which may allow for more greenspace, a larger facility and other amenities.

The facility would improve quality of life for city residents and base families, fitness opportunities for airmen, as well as meet training needs for the helicopter crews at Malmstrom and also the C-130 crews of the Montana Air National Guard.

Earlier this month, the city began working with a joint LPW Architecture/TD&H Engineering design team who, among other local firms, submitted a proposal to the city for the preliminary design and engineering work and also donated their services for the grant application process, which was an estimated $18,500.

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During the June 16 work session, several people affiliated with local swim programs asked the city and the design team to build, at a minimum, a 25-meter regulation pool in order to host meets and draw athletes from the region and Canada.

Preliminary designs are available here.

Jana Cooper, of TD&H, said that even if the city doesn’t get the grant, the community will have a plausible site and conceptual designs that can be used for planning.

Tim Peterson, an architect with LPW, said that the team met with the Malmstrom spouses club for feedback and the preliminary design included three pools, one 25-yard, eight lane lap pool, a recreation pool and a therapeutic pool, as well as basketball courts, a fitness area, outdoor splashpad and more.

He said the budget was based on a 25-yard pool, but since the project is early in the design phase, the team could probably adjust it to a 25-meter pool to meet the needs of swim meets.

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The preliminary design is a long and narrow facility to fit the available land, but that could change if the city acquires the base’s adjacent land or another site is selected.

Dani Grebe, an architect at LPW, is working on the exterior of the building with an “evolving design.”

The application is due June 26, so the team is working to have a final design by June 24.

“I want this to stand out. I want to get that grant,” Grebe said.

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The team is working with the concept “Aim High Big Sky” for the facility design.

The Defense Department will release the shortlist of proposed projects in August and Cooper said the plan is to have the city ready to put the full design project out for competitive bids then since the grants will be awarded in September and it’s a tight timeline for the city to accept the grant, then the work must start within a year of the grant award and be completed within five years.

The city closed the Natatorium at the end of 2018 and has been using the significantly smaller Mustang Pool at the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind for swim lessons and other aquatics programming.

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If the city were awarded the DoD grant, the city would need to issue debt service for up to $10 million against the park maintenance district.

Currently, the park maintenance district assess $1.5 million annually and the city would use those funds from year three onward to cover the debt service payments.

Debt service scenarios for 15-year revenue bonds at 4 percent would be:

  • For a $5 million bond, the annual debt payment would be $450,000
  • For a $7 million bond, the annual debt payment would be $630,000
  • For a $10 million bond, the annual debt payment would be $900,000

The city will be required to manage, operate and maintain the facility without additional financial support from the Air Force, aside from standard user fees or partnership agreements, according to the city staff report.