Commissioners approve permit, aggregation and vacating streets for aquatics center
City Commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use permit, vacating streets and aggregating lots for the planned Aim High Big Sky indoor aquatics and recreation facility in Lions Park.
The city was awarded a $10 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department for the project and will match its own $10 million by bonding against the park maintenance district and using those funds to pay the annual debt service.
The facility will be owned by the city and there will be user fees to support operational costs.
The planning facility and parking lot will take up about 3.5 acres of the nearly 12 acre park, leaving about 8 acres untouched. All existing amenities will remain though the swing set will be relocated to another area of the park. Most existing memorial trees will be preserved and the plan includes adding new trees for any that are removed.
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.
Lions Park was established as a city park in 1952 and according to a park system inventory prepared by the city clerk and the city engineers office in 1961, Lions Park was tentatively planned to have a swimming pool, according to the city staff report.
The proposed aquatics and recreation center would include a lap pool, recreation pool with zero depth entry, a full size gym with two cross courts, child watch area, multi-purpose rooms, a party room, a fitness area with a walking track.
During the May 18 commission meeting, several people asked about energy conservation and renewable energy for the project.
Tim Peterson, LPW president and project architect, said that “we’re trying our best to keep this as energy efficient as we can,” but that some of those energy conservation items come with added costs.
For the building, Peterson said the team is building to the state’s high efficiency standards, which are 20 percent better than the International Energy Conservation Code requires. The windows and walls are 50 percent better than the city’s code requires and the roof insulation is 20 percent better.
The building is also designed with LED lighting, occupancy sensors, daylight harvesting for the indoor lights, conduits to the roof for solar should funds become available for that, and rough-in conduits to the parking lot for electrical charging stations should funding become available for that in the future.
The team is also designing for the future option to tie into a ground heat source if funds become available.
The design team went through the LEED performance scoring checklist and there are 20 items that are easily achievable for the building, Peterson said, and about another 17 they can likely meet, though there’s more cost, for a total of 37 the team thinks it can meet.
A building needs a score of 40 to be LEED certified and it costs about $50,000 to go through the certification process, Peterson said, so at this time, the team isn’t pursuing the formal certification.
A number of people spoke in support of the pool related actions, including the Great Falls Development Authority and Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
Aaron Weissman, a longtime supporter of indoor swimming, said he supported the project and “let’s get this pool built.”
Jeni Dodd said she wasn’t speaking in opposition, but had some questions about the project and mentioned that construction costs had increased due to COVID-19 and wondered if the indoor recreation center would compete with private business.
No one else spoke in opposition to any of the items for the aquatics facility.
In April, commissioners approved a resolution of intent to vacate 28th Street South between 8th Avenue South
and 10th Avenue South, 9th Avenue South and 9th Alley South between 27th Street South and 29th Street
South and 10th Alley South between 27th Street South and 28th Street South along with a request to aggregate the lots in Lions Park for the proposed recreational facility.
The city’s senior transportation planned conducted a full traffic analysis, which is available on the city website, but the recommendations from the city staff report are:
- Provision of bicycle parking and/or secure bicycle storage is recommended to reduce the number of vehicular trips.
- Full connections between the project and the trails in Lions Park should be made and designed for direct and safe pedestrian and bicycle travel. This is especially important since the existing parking lot for park users would be replaced by parking adjacent to the center.
- Traffic control at nearby intersections should be reviewed and, if warrants are met, installed soon after opening of the center, especially at the 8th Avenue South and 29th Street South and at 9th Avenue South and 29th Street South intersections. Given the projected increase in traffic on 29th Street South, it is likely that traffic control at these intersections could be necessary after opening of the center. Intersections further to the east along 9th Avenue South should also be monitored for future traffic control needs, if warranted.
- Full ADA curb ramps at all corners surrounding Lions Park should be installed as soon as monies are available to provide safe and convenient pedestrian connections for all users.
- After opening of the center, prohibition of parking on one or both sides of portions of 29th Street South may be warranted due to the narrowness of the street. Traffic movements along this street segment should be reviewed soon after opening.
- Safety and delays at 29th Street South and 10th Avenue South should be monitored. If future conditions warrant the need, signalization may be an option that could be pursued with the Montana Department of Transportation.
The city’s traffic planner also included current and projected traffic counts in the staff report.
For background on the project, please see our previous coverage: