GREAT FALLS – Proponents of keeping the Morony Natatorium Pool open filled the Commission Chambers seats on Tuesday evening during the first Great Falls City Commission meeting for September.
The fate of the Natatorium was a topic of contention as several people voiced concerns about the impending closure, which is set for January.
Commenters told commissioners during the public comment period that the closure will adversely affect several people in the community.
“We are a lower to moderate income community in one of the coldest parts of the country. We also have a pair of rivers flowing through our community. I suggest to you that it is in our civic interest to make sure that our residents know how to swim and that we provide indoor swimming as a recreational and athletic opportunity for our residents,” Aaron Weissman said.
Several residents told the commission about how they have benefitted from the Natatorium whether through exercise or staying active as they aged.
Lori Wertz said she drives from Cascade to use the Natatorium and added there are many outside of the Great Falls community that appreciate the pool.
Pam Peck said she, along with others in the crowd, swims at the Natatorium every chance she gets.
“The health of our community is as important as anybody can bring up,” she said. “We’ve all put our money into it. We’ve had bake sales, we’ve done everything we can think of to do, now it’s up to you.”
Mayor Bob Kelly stated earlier Tuesday that commissioners welcome input about the Natatorium.
“Unfortunately, we’d also like some solutions. We don’t have the funds available to keep that building open,” he said. “It’s become a matter of public safety at this point and that was really the red line in the sand for us as far as determining when to close it.”
Kelly added the commission is anxious to seek alternatives and recognizes the importance of having an indoor swimming pool that’s open all year.
At a special work session in July, city officials discussed the Morony Natatorium Pool, which was not included in the annual budget and requires an estimated $539,834 to $612,526 in repair costs.
The City currently operates three outdoor pools and one indoor pool. The outdoor pools, including the Wave Rider at Electric City Water Park, are also in need of maintenance.
During the special work session, the permanent closure of the Natatorium was projected for January of 2019 while facilitating more programming and lessons at the outdoor pools during the open season.
Aside from hearing public comments on the Natatorium, the City Commission also adopted the Park District Number 1 Resolution for 2019 during Tuesday’s meeting. Kelly reiterated that the Commission must review and vote on the park district assessment every year.
City documents indicate the overall purpose of the Park District is to utilize and direct tax dollars towards the maintenance, repair, and replacement among other services of city-owned facilities including public parks, trails, sidewalks, and boulevards.
For 2019, the Park and Recreation Department prioritized sports courts resurfacing at Jaycee Park, ADA restroom improvements, River’s Edge Trail matching funds, and Electric City Water Park bath house improvements as well as other projects.
The cost of the proposed improvements is $1.5 million annually for the first three years. The estimated cost for homeowners is $22.92 a year for a property with a market value of $100,000.
Voters approved the Park District in May.
Reporting by Natalie McAlpine for MTN News