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City and county inspecting downtown federal building ahead of acquisition

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

The city and county of Missoula remain the only two entities in line to acquire the vacant federal building in downtown Missoula, where they continue to conduct due diligence ahead of taking possible ownership.

As more inspections take place this week, both local governments are ready to sit down and begin mapping shared uses, costs, and how to consolidate certain services.

“The end of the calendar year was talked about for some things, but there’s a lot we still have to identify,” said Dale Bickell, the city’s chief administrative officer. “We have to identify those areas where the city and county can share space. I think we’ll have some preliminary numbers by the end of the calendar year.”

The General Services Administration deemed the old Federal Building as surplus property in July, 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 using it as 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 county and the city are the only ones in line to be considered for the building to be transferred to,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief administrative officer. “The team has spent a lot of time on mechanical and electrical systems these last few visits. The mechanical systems seem to have been well maintained, even though they are, in some cases, a little on the older side.”

The county contracted A&E Design in August to conduct due diligence on the building. If the building comes up clean – and after the cost of renovations and updates are identified – the city and county could take ownership of the building through the Good Neighbor program.

Under that program, the National Park Service would declare the historic property a national monument. If that occurs, local government could receive the facility for free in exchange for its long-term preservation and care.

“The team has one more visit scheduled for this week,” Lounsbury said. “After that, they believe they’ll have the information they need to put together a report. That will result in some additional meetings with staff to start talking about what departments and uses will be in that space.

Portions of the building were constructed back in 1913. It 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.

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

“It’s all remarkably good news,” said Mayor John Engen. “I’m happy with where we’re heading.”