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Board places support behind plans for Missoula recreation and community center at McCormick Park

Missoula Currents Rec Center 2
Missoula Currents Rec Center 3
Currents Rec Center 1
Posted at 8:57 AM, Feb 09, 2022

MISSOULA — The Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday placed its unanimous support behind the conceptual plans for a new multi-purpose community center proposed for McCormick Park near downtown Missoula.

Known as the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity, the facility would extend the offerings of the existing Currents Aquatic Center and cater to an audience of all ages and multiple interests, according to project proponents.

If realized, it would also serve as a dedicated year-round center hosting recreation and cultural activities, said Donna Gaukler, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“The proposed conceptual design expands upon the existing Currents Aquatic Center,” she said. “Currents technically was Phase 1 of a future community center, which is what we’re talking about today.”

The aquatics center opened in 2006 and was funded through a combination of general obligation bonds and tax increment financing. The proposed community center carries an estimated cost of around $44 million, a number Gaukler said included today’s inflationary costs.

“We’re going into this eyes wide open,” Gaukler said. “It does consider the incredible inflation we’ve been through this year. I would hope and expect these numbers would be lower two years from now.”

Missoula Currents Rec Center 3

How the city would fund the facility’s construction hasn’t been detailed, though in the past a general obligation bond has been discussed. But Gaukler said the facility would likely come with a cost recovery of 60%, based upon measures taken from other city facilities.

In comparison, Gaukler said the city’s aquatics features, including both Splash and Currents, have a cost recovery of around 86%. Fort Missoula Regional Park has a cost recovery of around 38%.

“We think the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity would fall somewhere in between that,” she said. “The architectural design is very much meant to compliment and go with Currents. It’s really a facility designed to facilitate participation.”

The vision includes a multi-purpose gym or auditorium, a ballroom for social dance and performances, classrooms, childcare and facilities for both teens and aging adults.

Currents Rec Center 1

While programming isn’t part of moving the conceptual design-forward, Gaukler said recent community surveys found support for such a facility, with 66% of respondents agreeing that a community center should serve a multi-generational population.

Another 65% wanted indoor and outdoor places for meetings, gatherings, and small events. Lastly, 56% wanted places to dance, perform or a watch a performance.

“We want to create a multi-purpose Missoula community center centrally located in McCormick Park that serves multi-generational, year-round needs and is affordable for all,” Gaukler said. “With a long, dark (winter) season, we want a place where we can enjoy things.”

Project supporters said the center was included in the Downtown Master Plan. While the new Missoula Public Library creates an audience and lifelong commitment to reading, they said, the community center would engage people so they make a lifelong commitment to fitness and wellness.

“The friends' group is really being strategic right now in not labeling this another community center, but more as a center for creativity and recreation. They’re working hard from a program perspective to think of this differently,” said parks board member John O’Connor.