City pushes hearing on land swap for aquatics facility to Jan. 19
The city was planning on conducting a public hearing on Jan. 5 regarding the proposed land swap between the city and the Great Falls Public Schools district.
During the Dec. 15 City Commission meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon said that he recommended using the Jan. 5 work session to discuss the status of the proposed aquatics and recreation facility.
Commissioners said they’d prefer to push that public hearing to Jan. 19 to allow more time to digest information regarding the aquatics facility before making a decision on the land swap.
The sale, lease or trade of any city parkland requires a public hearing and a 4/5 approval vote by the City Commission.
The city received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department toward the estimated $20 million project. The grant process has a tight timeline that resulted in the city departing from it’s standard processes for major capital project, which has caused some community concern.
One of the issues from the tight timeline is that a location had to be identified and the grant program preferred parcels near Malmstrom Air Force Base.
The city identified a 10-acre parcel adjacent to the Seibel Soccer Park, owned by GFPS, and worked with the school district to arrange a land swap for that parcel in exchange for a portion of Kranz Park, which the district has had its eye on for years to use for parking for Great Falls High School.
Since being awarded the grant and receiving approval from the commission to spend city funds on the project, the design team began soil testing on the GFPS property and determined that it has unfavorable soil conditions, which can be mitigated, but the cost would be an estimated $2.6 million for the foundation alone.
Doyon said during the Dec. 15 meeting that the city has been working with Malmstrom officials and that he’s “encouraged that we have good options available.”
He said that they were trying to keep the project alive and find the sweet spot of creating a facility with enough amenities and space to accommodate services that will generate revenue so it doesn’t put more stress on the city’s general fund.
Commissioner Rick Tryon said he wanted more information about the valuation of each portion of land being considered for the swap. City staff said they’d get that information to him.
Both properties have been valued to be like kind with equal or greater value of approximately $150,000, according to the city.
City staff said during the Dec. 15 meeting and in their agenda report that if the city finalized the swap and the GFPS property was ultimately not used for the aquatics facility, the land could be used in the future for other purposes.
Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig said that when he first got to town in 2017, one of his early meetings was with GFPS officials and their interest in the Kranz property for parking. Herrig said that at that time he talked to then Superintendent Tammy Lacey about his interest in the GFPS property and the possibilities there.
Herrig said that regardless of the DoD grant, he’d like to pursue that property and talked with Neighborhood Council 4 last year about a park in that area that “would enhance that quality of life for the folks out in that area.”
City Manager Greg Doyon told The Electric that representatives from the Peak met once in person with him and Mayor Bob Kelly to discuss a potential management agreement or possible partnerships with their existing facility. Doyon said the city contacted the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, which oversees the grant, about the idea, and were told it was not consistent with the grant application so it was not pursued.
Doyon said he’s had other property offers to relocate the aquatics facility, “but the same question persists: Will the soils work? Will OEA approve a move at his juncture? Will MAFB consent? The base wants it close and I don’t blame them, but the city as the owner/operator needs it to pencil out – so we’re trying to address all of these issues at the moment.”
Under the agreement, the city and district agree to prorate taxes, special improvement assessments for the current tax year, permit fees, water and sewer charges, irrigation assessments, maintenance fees, and any other pre-paid charges concerning the respective properties, as are applicable as of the date of closing, according to the city.
The city will retain a right of reversion should the parcel in Kranz cease to be used for public purposes and in that case, the district would be compensated the amount equal to the appraised value of the property at the time of reversion as if it were undeveloped and not include improvements, according to the city.