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