American Legion to build indoor practice facility; Missoula County has questions

Missoula County took a step back Wednesday from granting the American Legion permission to construct an indoor practice facility on land owned by the county, at least until questions of insurance, fees and other matters are resolved.

Commissioners appointed the county’s legal staff to draft documents addressing the issues.

“I think we need to figure some stuff out before we take action on this,” said Commissioner Cola Rowley. “We’ve had some issues in the past with some other organizations owning buildings and us owning the land. I don’t think not signing this today holds the process up. They can still go do their due diligence.”

The American Legion has long used Big Sky County Park as the home of its baseball team. The property includes a baseball field, seating, storage and several outbuildings.

The addition of an indoor facility, measuring 74 by 120 feet, would extend the team’s practice season. The facility is needed in the spring, said Ginger Claussen, chair of the American Legion’s board of directors.

“It’s roughly around $300,000,” she said of the practice facility. “We have money for a down payment we’ve had for some time.”

The American Legion would bond additional funding to cover the full cost. It would like to move the project forward this year, and it sought permission to do so Wednesday.

The project has been recommended for approval by the Parks and Trails Advisory Board.

“This is a project that’s been proposed in years gone by that hasn’t come to fruition, but this time around, it looks pretty promising,” said John Stegmaier, the county’s parks and trails coordinator. “We do have some more work to do with risk to figure out what liability requirements we’re going to need to cover.”

Commissioners expressed concern over a number of issues, including lease fees and who would own the facility in the event the American Legion no longer existed. But questions over insurance prompted much of the county’s hesitation.

“We know the American Legion has liability insurance, so when their players are in there using the facility, that’s all well and good,” said Erika Grinde, director of risk management with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. “But if this is going to be leased out by the Legion to other parties, the county needs to be included as an additional insured party on any group that’s using the facility, so we have those layers of liability protection.”