County taps A&E to conduct due diligence on historic downtown federal building

The federal building in downtown Missoula as it looked in 1913.

A Missoula-based architecture and engineering firm will give the historic federal building a solid once over before city and county government decide whether to pursue acquisition of the downtown facility.

Missoula County commissioners on Thursday approved a services agreement with A&E Design to conduct an analysis of the vacant building, including the cost of remediation, restoration and renovation.

“They’ll be the lead on the design team in working with the city on going through the building and giving us an as-is assessment, along with potential cost estimates of making it a usable building for city and county services,” said Casey Gannon with county planning.

The General Services Administration last month deemed the old Federal Building surplus property, clearing the way for public agencies – including local governments – to submit a notice of interest in the facility.

The city and county of Missoula have long expressed interest in the building and possibly converting it into a hub of government services. That would help consolidate government offices and free up other downtown properties currently occupied by the city and county.

The City Council has authorized an agreement with Missoula County to spend up to $100,000 to complete due diligence. The process, contracted Thursday to A&E, will take a deep look at the building and it’s integrity.

It will also estimate the cost of repairs, maintenance needs and the general cost of renovation.

“They have an historical architect,” Gannon said of A&E. “They worked on the courthouse, so they used to the historical preservation system. We’re excited to work with them again.”

The Missoula federal building opened in 1913 and served as the headquarters for the U.S. Forest Service for more than 100 years. It underwent an expansion in the 1930s and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

But the Forest Service relocated from its downtown headquarters to Fort Missoula in 2015, and since then the building has remained mostly empty.