Discovery Square Gets a Financial Boost

By Beacon Staff

After a recent large donation, the Glacier Discovery Square in Columbia Falls is one step closer to becoming the city’s new and improved community center.

North Valley Hospital gave $150,000, which will be paid out over the next five years and has helped push the project ahead of schedule, according to First Best Place Task Force Director Barry Conger.

The money will be used to remodel the lower level of the building, formerly the First Citizens Bank and Glacier Bank building on Nucleus Avenue.

“We actually started working on the remodel sooner than we anticipated,” Conger said. “We decided to do the lower level while we had enough money. We really weren’t expected to do construction before next summer.”

Conger said the Discovery Square project has evolved since the grassroots group first purchased the building in 2008.

“This is a fluid project. We started out with a pretty big concept and we’ve developed it as we go,” Conger said.

Original plans for Discovery Square involved moving the Columbia Falls library to the new building and developing a community center in the lower levels for various activities. Conger said the initial idea was to move everything at once, but with the recent donation from North Valley Hospital it made more sense to do the project in phases.

The new lower level will be called the North Valley Hospital Education and Community Center at Discovery Square, and will facilitate health and wellness programs that were previously not available in town. The programs will include CPR, first aid training and courses on healthy living and aging. The facility will also be a center for blood drives, immunizations and health fairs.

Upgrades to Discovery Square will include new classrooms, an elevator and a new audio-visual system.

“We hope this will cement the concept that this is an education facility for people all across the valley,” Conger said.

Since Discovery Square will also eventually house the town’s library, the Flathead County Library System will also help shoulder the cost of the remodel. Kim Crowley, county library director, said the county set aside $100,000 from their capital budget two years ago for the new Columbia Falls library. This budget is separate from the library’s operational budget.

The money can only be used on “capital” projects, which means the library has to use it to purchase and own something. The purchases also have to be at least $5,000, so that could mean furniture, projectors or computers for the new space, Crowley said.

This money has yet to be allocated, but the county library system is still active in the remodel, Crowley said, and there is potential to help with the lower level funding.

“We’re totally on board with this project,” Crowley said. “It’s possible we’ll put some money in for that phase.”

The county library system has purchased new shelving for the Columbia Falls library, which is currently located in city hall. The money for the shelving came from a Columbia Falls Library Association donation. These shelves will be moved to the new facility when it comes time for that phase of the project. A new library will mean more space, which will be useful for programming needs, Crowley said.

“It’s amazing what the First Best Place Task Force has done,” Crowley said. “I’m just very pleased with the whole thing.”

The remodel will follow along the same pattern of “volunteer contracting,” Conger said. The project has depended largely on the donated time and talents of Columbia Falls residents and companies, and this phase is no different, he said.

Discovery Square is already functioning as a community center, hosting numerous events and meetings. The Flathead chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society meets there regularly and the building was recently used for education seminars and holiday festivities.