GREAT FALLS — A ground-breaking ceremony was held on Wednesday in Great Falls for the Aim High/Big Sky Indoor Aquatics & Recreation Center.
Representatives from the city, Malmstrom Air Force Base, and the Montana Air National Guard all spoke about the importance of the project.
One by one, shovels were pulled out of a small trailer in the parking lot at Lions Park and distributed to local dignitaries who carried them a few feet away to a waiting pile of dirt and on the count of three ceremonially shoveled dirt into the air to commemorate the beginning of the city's new aquatic center.
"We would not be here, of course, without our military partners and our friends,” said Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly.
Kelly said, "We're always looking...for intersections of friendship between the citizens of Great Falls and the community of airmen and their families. From Malmstrom to MANG and Army reservists. This facility will provide a wonderful place for these different groups to gather, recreate, share experiences and deepen relationships."
Next was Colonel Anita Feugate-Opperman, commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base: "It's another illustration of the great partnership between Malmstrom and the military community and the city of Great Falls that has supported us throughout all the years.
The city worked with Malmstrom to get a Department of Defense grant to fund the project.
Aside from providing recreation opportunities, the aquatic center will serve as a training ground for Malmstrom and the Montana Air National Guard which is located in Great Falls.
"Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in several meetings with the city council on how the new aquatic facility could be outfitted with our specialized water survival equipment in order to be able to help us meet the training requirements for two of the courses that we teach here,” said Technical Sergeant Michael Bilodeau, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist from Malmstrom AFB.
"This new facility will greatly benefit the quality of instruction that we are able to give to our air crew members by being a focal point facility for annual training for over 100 air crew members in the Air National Guard,” said TSgt Nathan Johnson of the Montana Air National Guard.
The grant requires the facility to be completed by 2023.
(JULY 1, 2020) In partnership with Malmstrom Air Force Base, the city of Great Falls has submitted a Defense Community Infrastructure Program grant proposal for the construction of an indoor aquatics and recreation facility.
The facility would meet community recreational and aquatics needs. The facility would also fill unmet training needs for airmen from Malmstrom Air Force Base and the Montana Air National Guard. The facility will be owned and operated by the Great Falls Park & Recreation Department and located on city property.
We talked with Steve Herrig, the director of the Great Falls Parks & Recreation, and he tells us Great Falls has a significant need for something like this: "It is because currently, there is not an indoor public pool. That's just one piece of it. One piece is basketball court time, everybody is looking for it, we have the one court at our rec center currently which is an older building as well, but again it's a far cry from what we need."
He continued, "So far we've submitted a proposal, what we plan to do, it would meet our swim lessons needs, our open swim laps swim, and other recreational needs, some basketball courts and classrooms and fitness area. Plus, it would meet Malmstrom and the Montana Air Guard airmen training needs that they currently don't have because right now, they're the only northern base without an indoor facility to train at. Plus it would also enhance the quality of life for the airmen, their families, and the community."
If the proposal is accepted, the city will submit a grant application with the final notification of approval by September 30, 2020. If the grant is approved, the city would have one year from September 30, 2020 for design and ground-breaking. Construction would follow over the next year or so. A firm timeline has not been set yet. It's roughly 50,000 square feet and will be located on the east side of town.
If the grant application is successful, the Department of Defense would match 50% of the construction costs. The City would fund the remaining 50% through the Park District Number 1 funding.