Demolition crews will soon begin dismantling Spartan Pool at Missoula’s Playfair Park to make way for the city’s first new aquatics facility. In April, the lowest bid for the estimated $11 million citywide project came in $2.2 million over budget; the future of Missoula’s aquatics project was unclear. Last week’s groundbreaking eased doubts over the future of the project, but raised a question: what changed?
According to Brentt Ramharter, the city’s finance director, Missoula will have to tighten its belt over the next five years to accommodate the aquatics project. The city took a comprehensive look at its budget and identified projects that use general fund dollars over the next five years, Ramharter says. The finance department identified areas where it would be feasible to scale back or reschedule projects, and by doing so the city was able to free up about $875,000 dollars for the aquatics project. Additionally, the city will finance $1.4 million over 20 years to make up the difference.
“We had to make five years worth of decisions in a couple of months,” says Ramharter.
As a result, the city will delay significant park improvement projects in other parts of town, says Ramharter.
According to Donna Gaukler, director of Parks and Recreation, one of the most significant changes is the city’s plan to move park operations from 100 Hickory to a centralized location north of the Scott Street bridge.
“I don’t think it’s a negative,” says Gaukler. “Instead of happening in next couple of years it will happen in about four or five years.”
Gaukler says plans to improve playground equipment and restrooms will also be put on hold for a few years.
“What the administration and Council was doing was putting somewhere between $200,000 to $300,000 per year into the general capital improvement program to improve those facilities,” Gaukler explained.
Now, for three years, the majority of that money will be allocated to aquatics facilities. The parks department will still have about $60,000 per year for projects deemed critical to park maintenance.