Members of The Converge Foundation and its predecessor citizens groups have participated in Missoula’s conversation around a community center since 1998.  During this time, several questions were often repeated.  The following frequently asked questions are an effort to capture and update the key points of conversation around these questions.  It is impossible to capture the full breadth, so please feel empowered to investigate further. The Converge Foundation cannot claim to represent the perspectives of the City of Missoula with complete accuracy. The answers reflected here are our own.

In 2003, after extensive research and a public process led by the Missoula Parks and Recreation Department and a citizens working group borne from Celebrate 2000, the Missoula City Council endorsed the McCormick Park Master Site Plan (Resolution 6888). This included setting aside real property for a year-round community center, citing as one of many reasons: “… there has been much additional support for a community center to allow year-round indoor recreation, cultural, and social opportunities.”

There are several definitions of “community center” but they all share a common theme that is reflected in Missoula’s Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity: A public facility offering Missoula’s citizens affordable social, cultural, educational, and indoor recreational activities year-round.

People of all ages and abilities will use the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity. Envision a vital, active, multi-purpose facility where youth, teens, young, middle-aged, and older citizens come to an easily accessible, central location in Missoula to participate in social interactions, cultural explorations, educational opportunities, and indoor recreation activities.

Surveys, community charrettes, workshops, and formal studies have all indicated the need and desire for an appropriate year-round, indoor space for group activities.  Examples include shared meals, card games, and other social activities. Dance lessons, art classes, performances, festivals, and workshops are examples of arts and cultural events. Other needs expressed are space for health and wellness classes for all ages; after-school programs and summer camps for youth; and volleyball, basketball, and pickleball. These examples are not exhaustive but represent the range of activities that appeal to a variety of citizens.

Missoula’s Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity had its genesis over 20 years ago during the “Celebrate 2000” community forums and the project was subsequently included in the 2004 Missoula City-County Comprehensive Master Parks and Recreation Plan. This Plan established goals, policies, actions, and implementation tools to provide a high-quality green infrastructure of parks, trails, conservation lands, and recreational opportunities for all Missoula citizens. With the completion of the Fort Missoula Regional Park and the Missoula Public Library, it is time to focus efforts on Missoula’s Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity.

An explicit need for a community center was noted in the Master Park Plan as follows: “…it is projected that aquatic facilities, recreation/community centers and walking trails will continue to grow in demand.” Furthermore, “the demands identified point to the need for a multi-purpose recreation center with a field house/gym, arts/crafts components and facilities for teens and seniors” (Chapter Three, page 3-30).

In November 2015, the City Council adopted “Our Missoula,” a community plan to create a sustainable, resilient, livable community. Throughout the document, multiple references are made to the need for indoor recreation, cultural and gathering spaces which meet Growth Policy goals in Community Design, Livability, Safety and Wellness.

McCormick Park is in the heart of the city of Missoula. It is easily accessible via multiple means of transportation due to its proximity to miles of walking and bike paths leading right to the facility’s door. Vehicular access is available by major thoroughfares such as Orange, Russell, Wyoming, and Broadway Streets while Mountain Line bus stops are a block away. In addition to transportation access, another important benefit to the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity (CCRC) located at McCormick Park is the connection to Currents, Missoula’s most popular city-owned aquatics facility. Currents hosts an indoor water park featuring a children’s water playground, fitness pool, lap lanes, and two water slides.The connection of these two assets promotes multi-purpose activities for families and groups for indoor recreation. Some members will swim or take lessons at Currents while, down the hall in the planned CCRC extension, other family members are actively participating in a dance lesson, an art class, an energetic lap around a walking track, or perhaps a game of pinochle or cribbage.

Community centers range greatly in price based upon square footage, location, finishes, amenities, and related construction costs. A professional design study conducted in 2021 estimated the 2024 cost to be approximately $45 million.  This is similar to the $30 million cost of the Missoula County Library if the library were to be built today. Given changing economic conditions, a revised estimate will be available in 2024.

Based upon current Parks and Recreation Department policies regarding facilities and services and considering the 2021 Ballard*King study, a preliminary analysis projects the facility can cover a large portion of operational cost through user fees and sales. Revenues are governed by use policies and fee structures approved by Missoula’s City Council.  The Missoula County Public Library operates on a “no fee” basis whereby use of the facility is at no additional cost to users. The operational costs of the Missoula County Public Library are borne by a county-wide levy.

The City of Missoula’s plan is to make the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity (CCRC) programming inclusive for all income levels, similar to how the City currently provides programming for low-income families. The City currently offers a broad-based recreation grant program that offers free or reduced rates for all recreation and aquatics programming—with a simplified, accessible application/registration process. That program will remain in place for the CCRC. The City’s policy is that no resident will be turned away from Parks programs due to inability to pay. The business plan includes strategies for increasing the City’s scholarship fund and providing additional free-and-low-cost programming. Some of those strategies could include support from the City general fund, saving a portion of user/rental fees for free/low-cost programming, grants, alternative funding sources and donations.  The City of Missoula is committed to inclusion and equity in all services and programs for all residents.  In addition, The Converge Foundation (TCF) is a philanthropic organization that exists to support programming, access to programs, and program development for the CCRC. TCF operates much like a library foundation supports a library.

The vision of the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity is to provide opportunities for social interaction, cultural exploration, and programs that support health in an atmosphere that is multi-generational and inclusive. It will complement and benefit existing organizations with appropriate space for events, classes, exhibitions, and performances.  The facility will enhance opportunities for the Missoula community and not be in conflict with offerings by other organizations. The Converge Foundation has reached out to facilities that offer programs for the public and they are all at capacity, often turning away events. While Missoula has grown, we have lost venues or access to venues for recreational activities.

The design team and working group worked closely with other local facilities to ensure the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity would fulfill unmet needs in our community and would not be in conflict with other community spaces/services/facilities. The Design Team toured the new public library and ZACC, and coordinated with the Missoula Senior Center, Missoula County Public Schools, the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, the University of Montana, and others to analyze existing facilities and identify gaps in service.  In addition, The Converge Foundation has interviewed over one-hundred nonprofit organizations in Missoula to further clarify programming and space needs.

In 2022 the Missoula City Council adopted the concept design and guiding principles for the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity.  As a community asset operating under the City of Missoula, it is the role of the City of Missoula and the Missoula community to identify a funding source for construction and operations. Discussion are ongoing with Mayor Davis and City Council regarding funding options.

Visit the Engage Missoula website on this topic for additional background information.

It is not a given that Missoula will have a community center. Residents have demanded such a facility via decades of public input, surveys, focus groups, market analysis, and master planning. It is important to note the idea of a community center has been in the community and City discussion for over two decades. Ultimately, citizens do determine what projects and services they desire and when.

The Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity is not an either-or proposition, rather a vision for a centralized facility and potentially many satellite facilities.  There are two primary reasons for at least one centralized facility. First, operational overhead, logistics, and the number of personnel needed to operate and maintain an array of community services are more cost-effective with a single facility. Secondly, having many recreational and creative opportunities in one space supports the potential for interaction among community members and the kindling of unexpected new interests. It fosters an intergenerational experience that would be difficult to achieve in dispersed programs. In addition, a centralized facility can be a hub or clearinghouse that can identify and support activities in other facilities in Missoula, including neighborhood spaces.  An example of a satellite, neighborhood-based facility is the project that Parks and Recreation worked on with Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) to open the first Neighborhood Center at Lowell School/Westside Park. Learn more at https://www.engagemissoula.com/lowell-westside-neighborhood-center. The larger vision is to open a central facility and more satellite facilities to provide the greatest opportunities for all residents while maximizing public resources. MCPS recently received a grant to explore opening additional neighborhood-based facilities.

A large facility can be designed to support more intimate social experiences as well as larger gatherings. The intent is to support both.  Flexible, multi-use spaces with natural lighting and materials and nature-inspired finishes can help create a welcoming atmosphere. The type of spaces depends on community interests and the ability to match activities to appropriate facilities, including small and large spaces. Bringing “community” into the facility is part programming and part advocacy. The programming can be structured to ensure diversity in offerings but be flexible enough to be responsive to ad-hoc opportunities when they arise. In addition, adding a staff “community advocate,” an outreach liaison to the community can help ensure center programming does not become entrenched and thus a barrier to its original goals.

Yes, the City uses surveys such as the Parks, Recreation, Open Space, and Trails (PROST) every few years to help us adapt and understand needs and assess how well existing programs are functioning. Additionally, Parks and Recreation regularly hosts focus groups, informal surveys, program evaluations to guide program and service changes. The City recently launched its PROST effort for 2024. As part of that effort, the City of Missoula is working with the University of Montana to reach marginalized populations that don’t typically participate in community surveys.

One of the proposed Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity’s primary goals is to provide equitable opportunity for all populations, particularly the underserved, to enjoy quality public spaces. Providing access to wellness, clean air during smoky summers, and safe places to gather during long, dark, icy periods is essential for all, including those who cannot afford travel, clubs, large homes and yards.  The level and sources of funding have not yet been determined. Pending community support for the shared vision, the next step will be to develop specific funding strategies. Certainly, we will look to maximize alternative and private funds. Unfortunately, property taxes are the only mechanism the Montana Legislature has made available to local governments to fund large capital projects. Many other states allow for additional resources such as sales tax, local option tax, lottery, or similar revenue sources to fund capital improvements. The Montana Legislature has greatly limited the ability of local governments to pursue more equitable forms of revenue generation, such as a local option tourism tax.  That said, voters must approve a municipal bond. Property taxes have been rising, not because of municipal bonds but rather due to increasing property values.

We cannot speak to past finalists of the State and City mandated process for selecting the most qualified firms. However, the City recently completed an extensive selection process, and MMW Architects, a local firm, was chosen as the most qualified for the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity (CCRC) concept design project. As with Currents and other MMW projects, locally sourced, sustainable materials and construction are always a high priority.  Recent Parks and Recreation projects, including Fort Missoula Regional Park, the Montana Rail Link Park, and the Currents Aquatics Center, have demonstrated sustainability in design, construction, and materials. The City expects to carry this commitment forward with the CCRC. 

The Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity will be designed in the context of its environment, with the river being the most important influence on that design. The City has a concurrent process starting that focuses on Clark Fork River access points and restoration. The timing of these two projects aligns, and each will inform the other. Learn more at https://www.engagemissoula.com/clark-fork-river-restoration-access-project. The City of Missoula has recently gained access to the BNSF railway bridge crossing the river from Broadway. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) is conducting engineering studies to develop a plan for pedestrian access on this bridge to the Bitterroot Trail and McCormick Park.

There is general agreement that kids and families need indoor spaces to play when weather or wildfire air quality restricts their outdoor activities. The initial project concept includes plenty of play spaces for all ages and a coffee counter/café/gathering spot for parents.  The City will look forward to hearing ideas from the community, like activity observation windows, when the facility is funded, and construction diagrams are beginning to be developed.

Yes! The Design Team was aware of the need to provide good pedestrian connectivity between the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity and Silver Summit Playground.

Yes, a gymnasium is part of the initial project concepts. Demand for indoor gym space is high in Missoula, and a multi-purpose gym space would meet many needs in our community.

The preliminary project concept includes dance/music/theater performance and rehearsal space.

The Climate Ready Missoula Plan adopted in May 2020 states as one of its goals to “Find, develop and promote indoor recreation, exercise and creative activity spaces that are available to individuals and recreational programs (youth and adult) that are accessible to all income levels.” The Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity plan satisfies this goal. 

The common thread among communities enrolled in AARP’s Age-Friendly Network is the belief that the places where we live are more livable, and better able to support people of all ages, when local leaders commit to improving the quality of life for the very young, the very old, and everyone in between. The Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity provides community spaces that create a more livable Missoula. AARP’s Age-Friendly Network Community Application needs to be completed by City of Missoula. Currently, Missoula Aging Services is focused on Missoula’s efforts to support a Dementia Friendly Community.

It is not unusual for major citizens-driven projects like the Currents Center for Recreation and Creativity (CCRC) to take 20 to 25 years to realize. As an example, the recently completed Fort Missoula Regional Park is the results of a 25-year collaborative effort between a citizens group and the City of Missoula. The rate of progress is often dependent on the availability of dedicated citizens, most holding down full-time jobs, to coordinate and collaborate with partners like the City of Missoula and advance the community conversation over the long run. The Converge Foundation has been a significant partner with the City of Missoula to educate the community about the potential of the CCRC. With major investments it is important to get it right, and often there are false starts because of economic or development uncertainties.