GREAT FALLS — During Tuesday’s Great Falls City Commission meeting, the public received its best look yet at the proposed Aim High/Big Sky Indoor Aquatics & Recreation Center when the commission unanimously passed two resolutions clearing the way for construction to begin. The first resolution was for the approval of a conditional use permit for zoning purposes for the site at Lions Park, with an address of 900 29th Street South. The second resolution was to declare intent to vacate the rights-of-way surrounding the proposed facility which wouldn’t affect any property owners or change traffic patterns.
“The city will be able to improve existing facilities and improve the infrastructure system within both the park and surrounding areas,” said Craig Raymond, the Great Falls Planning & Development director. Raymond, along with Park & Recreation director Steve Herrig and Tim Peterson with LPW Architecture, presented plans and offered detailed information for residents who might be concerned about increased traffic and parking.
“The careful design and layout are sensitive to the surrounding area, and we aimed to reduce the amount of traffic dispersing into the area, and into the adjacent neighborhood,” Raymond said. “Ideally, we’re trying to take it away from the neighborhood as much as possible.”
The presentation included renderings and floor plans of what the facility might look like. Current plans feature two indoor pools, one for laps and one for recreation with a water slide and lazy river. The gym will feature a full-size basketball court, and second-floor running track.
The facility will be located one block off 10th Avenue South, and the design of the facility took into account the potential for increased traffic to the neighborhood surrounding Lions Park.
Commissioners approved both resolutions unanimously and set a hearing May 18th, at which point they will hear from the public before moving forward with the permit and intention to vacate.
Under the guidelines of the Department of Defense grant that will cover half of the cost of the $20 million dollar facility, construction must begin by the end of September. According to Peterson the project is on schedule, barring any setbacks.
“We will submit final plans the first week of August and after we get it out to bid, and we start construction at the end of September, we have about a 20-month time frame for construction,” Peterson said. “We’re hoping to open the facility around the first of May in 2023.”
The Great Falls Planning Board signed off on the permit and representatives from Neighborhood Council 9, where the facility will be located, spoke in favor of the project. The city of Great Falls has created a FAQ page on its website to inform the public about funding, design, and the bid process for the facility.
Also during Tuesday night’s, commissioner Owen Robinson announced he would not be seeking re-election, which leaves his seat open for the November election. Robinson said it was a difficult decision because of the many exciting issues the city faces, but ultimately he wanted more time to pursue personal goals.
“I would love to be part of those challenges,” Robinson said. “However, there are many things I still want to pursue in my life and I think that it is time for me recognize that if I don’t take advantage of my good health now, that I may never realize those quests. Of course I will continue to work hard these last eight months of my term. I encourage interested citizens to step up and file for the two positions that will be vacated.”
Robinson was elected to the commission in 2018, and will serve the remainder of his term through December 31st. Robinson is the second commissioner to make a decision regarding the November election, following Mary Moe who announced in March she would also not seek re-election. Mayor Bob Kelly has not indicated whether he plans to run for re-election.
Filing to run for the open seats begins April 22nd and runs through June 22nd. Anyone interested must complete a Declaration for Nomination and Oath of Candidacy form at the Cascade County Election Office.