Park Board supports aquatics center move to Lions; discusses visitor center lease, legislation that could impact park maintenance district

The Park and Recreation Advisory Board voted during their Jan. 11 meeting to support the move to Lions Park for the planned indoor aquatics and recreation center that would be funded partially by a federal grant.

Steve Herrig, Park and Recreation director, said he misspoke during the Jan. 5 City Commission meeting when he said Lions Park is 17 acres and that it’s actually about 14 acres. The proposed aquatics facility and parking would take up about 4 acres, he said.

City proposes Lions Park as new site for aquatics facility

He said they want to preserve as many mature trees as possible and the plan for the aquatics facility will consider the existing amenities. Improvements, including a new restroom, are planned in Lions Park this summer, Herrig told the board.

“It will really be a nice area,” Herrig said.

Herrig said the entrance to the park would remain as it is currently and that the city has informed the Neighborhood Council about the plan and staff is speaking with the full Lions Club this week.

The Montana Department of Transportation has also been made aware of the project and city staff has said that so far, the project will not require any changes on 10th Avenue South.

The former Natatorium has not yet been demolished, but is the second indoor pool built on that site and the second to fail due to structural failures and an underground spring. The site will continue use as a park, according to Park and Rec.

Once the new facility is opened, City Manager Greg Doyon has said he will recommend closure of the existing Community Recreation Center on 2nd Avenue North.

That facility is in need of a new roof, according to Park and Rec officials, and they’ll do that work to be able to repurpose or sell the building.

“Our anticipation is not to tear it down…I think it still has some useful life to it,” Herrig said.

City staff are still pursuing a land swap with Great Falls Public Schools for land they intended for the aquatics facility near the soccer park and Loy Elementary in exchange for a portion of Kranz Park that the district wants for parking at Great Falls High School.

That land swap item is on the Jan. 19 City Commission agenda.

City pushes hearing on land swap for aquatics facility to Jan. 19

Park and Rec is also moving forward with the lease agreement for the former visitor center on Overlook Drive with Great Falls Montana Tourism. The tourism agency was the only one to submit a proposal to lease the city owned building that has been vacant for several years.

City still working on lease for former visitor center

The item will go to commissioners on Feb. 2 for them to set a public hearing on the lease.

Herrig also asked the board to familiarize themselves with Senate Bill 77, which would put limits on special districts, including park maintenance districts.

The bill would limit special districts, which include “but is not limited to cemetery districts, museum districts, park districts, fair districts, solid waste districts, local improvement districts, mosquito control districts, multijurisdictional districts, road districts, rodent control districts, television districts, and districts created for any public or governmental purpose not specifically prohibited by law. The term also includes any district or other entity formed to perform a single or limited number of functions by interlocal agreement.”

The bill would put 10-year time limits on the special districts and would cap the increases to inflationary factors.

“This could be very detrimental to us as well as other cities in Montana,” Herrig said.

He told The Electric that staff from cities across Montana have been in touch and are expressing concern about the bill and how it would limit their ability to generate revenue for necessary improvements and maintenance.

City reinvesting savings from park district projects into other Park and Rec improvements

Bozeman voters approved a park maintenance district in perpetuity on their May 2020 ballot, with 61 percent in favor, according to the Bozeman Chronicle.

Under current law, a municipality can set the amount of a part maintenance district and the duration of the district, with no limitations, but there are specific requirements for establishing a park maintenance district under state law.

Great Falls voters approved their district in 2018 for 20 years.

The legislation could also impact the city’s boulevard and Portage Meadows districts, Herrig said.