City, design team update neighborhood on aquatics facility plans

Cover photo is a rendering from LPW Architecture 

City staff and the design team for the indoor aquatics and recreation center updated Neighborhood Council 9 about the project planned for Lions Park during their Feb. 11 meeting.

The city received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense for the estimated $20 million project and plans to use park maintenance district funds to bond the city’s $10 million match.

City continuing plans on aquatics center for Lions Park

The plan is to build the 44,943 square-foot aquatics and recreation center in the section of Lions Park that is currently a parking lot to disrupt as few existing amenities as possible.

The park is about 14 acres and the aquatics facility and parking would take up about 4 acres, according to city Park and Recreation staff.

The design team, which includes LPW Architects and TD&H Engineering, is working on site plans, building designs and other specifics now and plans to start construction contracts this summer to begin moving dirt by Sept. 28, as required by the federal grant program.

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Tim Peterson, LPW president, said during the Neighborhood Council 9 meeting that there are 962 children who live within a 1-mile radius of the planned pool location and that the facility will be a community benefit.

Four members of Neighborhood Council 9 and about seven members of the public attended the Feb. 11 meeting.

One resident said the project was a community benefit. Three expressed concerns over traffic.

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Dani Grebe, an architect on the project and partner at LPW, said that the team is leaning toward using pre-cast concrete for the construction, which shortens construction time to lessen the impact on the neighborhood.

She said those pieces are formed in a factory, hauled to the location and tilted into place. They include the insulation, interior and exterior finishes.

Jana Cooper, a landscape architect on the project with TD&H, said that the team chose the site location to minimize disruption to the existing amenities in Lions Park and to have it close to the existing commercial properties on 10th Avenue South at the corner of 29th Street.

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There’s a 75-foot buffer of greenspace from the parking lot in the site plan to the sidewalk on 8th Avenue South, which is residential. 

In the current site plan, the team is preserving 12 existing trees, and taking out 14, two of which they think they can relocate. They’ll also add 30 new trees, Cooper said. The plan also includes berms on the north and eastern edges that abut residential to minimize the impact from vehicle headlights in the parking lot, she said.

The current site plan has main access to the facility off 29th Street, aligning with 9th Avenue South.

Some area residents asked the team to move parking closer to 10th Avenue South and the existing commercial properties and have the main access off 10th.

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That could be challenging, the team said, to get approval from the Montana Department of Transportation for an approach off 10th Avenue South. The city and design team are in discussion with MDT about the project and are looking at the possibility of adding a traffic signal at 29th Street.

Staff is also talking to the Great Falls Transit District, which is independent of the city, about adding a bus stop at the new pool to increase accessibility.

The existing swing set will be relocated. This summer, the city is resurfacing the tennis courts and adding striping for tennis and pickleball as a park maintenance district project.

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The preliminary designs for the aquatics facility include a splash pad on the southside of the facility and an indoor/outdoor slide feature that will be visible from 10th Avenue South, Grebe said.

Grebe said that the team is working on plans for staging construction activities and asked for neighborhood input to help minimize the local impact. She said that construction on the Benefis Health System womens and childrens center across the street is scheduled to wrap up in November so there wouldn’t be significant overlap with the pool construction.

Cooper said the team met with local swimming groups who said that the parking lot will likely fill up for major swim meets, but those happen roughly four times per year.

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City staff are still working on operating plans for the facility, but Deputy Park and Rec Director Patty Rearden said that they’re tentatively planning to operate from 6 a.m. to 8-9 p.m. The city has not yet set fees for the facility, but Rearden said that the goal is an affordable community facility. Fees would also be assessed to military users.

The design team said that they’re working on plans and systems to incorporate energy efficiencies and renewables, such as solar panels.

To build the facility in the city park, under its current zoning, the project needs a conditional use permit, which Neighborhood Council 9 voted Feb. 11 to recommend that the City Commission approve.

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The city planning board will also review the conditional use permit and the City Commission has final approval. The commission will also be asked to vacate alleys and streets that are still platted in the park and aggregate the entire park into a single parcel.

The city closed the Natatorium in December 2018 after portions of the building’s facade began falling off in January 2018. It has yet to be demolished, but staff intends to do so and continue to use the site as a park.

City has been awarded $10 million grant for indoor aquatics facility

The pool was built in the late 1960s, replacing a previous facility at the site over a spring, which has had cracking and settling issues, among other problems.

A 2011 assessment identified a number of other issues in the building, many of which were never funded due to other budget needs, according to city officials.

Once the new pool and recreation facility is complete, City Manager Greg Doyon has said he will recommend closure of the city’s existing recreation center on 2nd Avenue North.