March 16, 2017

Textbook Case: University Of Montana Western's Main Hall Gets An Upgrade

  • By: Geoff Montes
University of Montana Western Main Hall

photo by: University of Montana Western

Originally built in 1897, Main Hall at the University of Montana Western was damaged after an earthquake in 2005. Major upgrades and renovations were completed in August of 2016,

After a 2005 earthquake rattled the pint-sized Montana city of Dillon, jolting the University of Montana Western’s campus and causing Main Hall—the school’s oldest and largest structure—to lose a chimney, it was determined that the stately edifice needed a comprehensive systems upgrade and renovation.

In 2008, following a hasty stabilization, the institution selected Bozeman-based architect Richard Shanahan and his longtime friend Ken Sievert, a veteran historic architect, to spearhead the endeavor.

“From day one we sought to preserve everything we could,” says Shanahan, describing what became a $15 million undertaking that finally wrapped up in August.

Built in 1897 and designed by state architect John C. Paulsen, “Old Main” was enlarged three times (in 1907, 1924, and 1951) and now contains classrooms, administrative offices, exhibition space, a reading room, and an auditorium. The sensitive three-part update cleverly concealed state-of-the-art technology, heating, and electrical systems, while seismically reinforcing the landmark.

“We also enhanced ADA access into the facility, including elevators, lift, and ramps,” says Sievert. Around three-quarters of the original windows were restored, along with historic barrel vaulting and ornamental plaster, both of which had been obscured.

Among elements painstakingly replicated or matched were architectural terracotta, wood moldings, and tiles, while materials awkwardly introduced in more recent years were removed altogether, and the well-kept facade remained untouched. Since the final phase concluded, the project won the Best Historic Preservation award from the Montana Contractors Association.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Sievert. “I’m proud that we brought some dignity back to this spectacular building.”

University of Montana Western Main Hall steeple

photo by: University of Montana Western

The Montana Contractors Association gave the project its Best Historic Preservation award.

University of Montana Western Main Hall

photo by: University of Montana Western

Architects aren't sure of where the building's original brick came from.

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