City to receive $20 million in COVID funds; aquatic center plan updated; GFPD chief replacement process underway; Civic Center facade contract pushed to April 6

The City of Great Falls is slated to receive about $20 million in federal funds through the recently approved COVID-19 stimulus package.

City Manager Greg Doyon said during the March 16 commission meeting that the funds would come in two seperate payments over the next year.

He said that the rules regarding how the funds can be used haven’t been finalized yet, but broadly, Doyon said the funds can be used by local governments to meet revenue gaps caused by COVID; mitigating economic harm from the pandemic; and investment in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

City reviews budget, several funds take hit from COVID

According to the Montana League of Cities and Towns, the allocations for Great Falls, Billings and Missoula will be based on a modified Community Development Block Grant formula that’s used for federal funds to those cities annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The funds can also be used to provide pay of up to an additional $13 an hour in wages for workers performing
an essential function in the pandemic, or provide grants to eligible local employers for premium pay to essential workers; and respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality, according to the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

City accepting applications for COVID-19 grant funds

The COVID-19 stimulus funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024 and cannot be used for pensions or tax cuts.

Doyon said that staff is working on a prioritized list of recommended uses of the funds to bring to the City Commission and an upcoming work session. Commissioners will make the final decisions.

The city also received about $11.1 million in CARES Act funds, as well as additional CDBG and HOME funds specific to COVID-19.

Doyon also updated commissioners on the Aim High Big Sky aquatics center project, which goes to the city planning board on March 23 for consideration of the conditional use permit for the site at Lions Park.

City, design team update neighborhood on aquatics facility plans

The design team submitted a letter to the Montana Department of Transportation this week with the proposed design, which largely includes existing conditions for vehicle access and roadways.

He said the team included some possible alternatives to address neighborhood traffic concerns, but for anything on and off 10th Avenue South, MDT has to sign off.

The team is also working on the environmental review, which is federally required, for the site and working out details on water changeover in the pool and the sizing for utility lines to accommodate that much water, as well as storm water plans.

City continuing plans on aquatics center for Lions Park

The site requires a minimum of 130 parking spaces, but the team is considering expanding that to 180 space to minimize spillover into residential streets, Doyon said.

City staff are also monitoring traffic counts in the area to have a baseline that can be used to determine the impact of the facility on traffic and any needed traffic control measures.

The roof design has been modified, Doyon said, with a different drain system and relocation of some of the mechanical equipment to ensure proper drainage of rain and snow.

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

Doyon also updated commissioners on the process for replacing Great Falls Police Department Chief Dave Bowen, who retires April 2.

An internal process is currently underway and those within GFPD who are interested in being considered must submit their applications by March 19, Doyon said. He’ll review the candidates, likely conduct some interviews and then determine whether to move forward with a more thorough review of those candidates or widen the recruitment process to external candidates.

Bowen retiring as GFPD chief

During the March 16 meeting, commissioners voted to delay the vote on the Civic Center facade repair project to the April 6 meeting.

Civic Center façade contract on March 16 Commission agenda

 Commissioners also approved a change order to the contract for the finance office remodel within the Civic Center, increasing the cost by $45,344.88 to a total of $344,044.88.

The contract was originally approved in November.

City considering contract for Civic Center office space remodel

As the demolition phase of the project started, asbestos and lead were discovered in 9 by 9 flooring tiles under the carpet and lead in some paint on the walls. Those hazards were remediated.

Staff also determined during permit review that some ADA improvements should be made to include new door hardware with handles instead of knobs and updating the cashier counter with an ADA compliant drop counter. The original design didn’t include those improvements but it was later determined they were needed to comply with regulations. While making changes to the counter, some glass in that area of the office was also removed for safety concerns, according to Craig Raymond, city planning director.

During demolition, crews also discovered that some electrical conduit was resting on the suspended ceiling tile grid, which isn’t allowed in current code and needed to be updated.