Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Efforts to renovate the downtown federal building for public use is running roughly one year behind schedule, officials said Wednesday. But as the work advances, it will explore a range of grants aimed at energy efficiency.

The city and county are now deep into crafting their FY 25 budgets and they’ll both be asked to set aside funds for capital improvements at the historic building, now dubbed the John Engen Local Government Building. As it stands, the exact amount hasn’t been pinned down, said Eric Hallstrom, the city’s director of Central Services.

“I hope to have a more concrete number for the mayor’s budget,” said Hallstrom. “We’ve spent a lot of time phasing additional work with both our construction contractor and our architects to orchestrate the rehabilitation plan in a way that’s going to start allowing us to make moves, facility wise, and start cutting costs in our facility budget.”

Hallstrom said that cost-savings could be found by eliminating rent and lease fees at the various downtown properties that currently house city and county staff. The new federal building will see the two governments share a single space and offer a one-stop shop for public services.

In the new fiscal year, Hallstrom said work on the federal building will include a seismic investigation and a deeper look at where water is entering the building. He said they’ll also complete the master plan and schematic design.

Deconstruction and abatement should also be completed.

“Part of this project we thought we’d be into the spring of this year,” Hallstrom said. “But it’s taken a little more investigative work to figure out how to structure and plan that abatement work. I feel like we’re pushing back about a year. We’re looking forward to commencing that in the new fiscal year.”

As the next phase of work draws near, city and county officials are exploring grant opportunities offered in the Inflation Reduction Act. The program offers funding to retrofit older facilities with new energy-efficient technology.

“Grants from the Inflation Reduction Act had quite a bit of money that departments got for energy conservation and renovations,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “There are great opportunities given we’re rehabbing this building and trying to make it more energy efficient.”

Hallstrom said retrofits aimed at efficiency could include geothermal work. The city also has an energy policy requiring 100% electrification – a move intended to move away from fossil fuels.

Any empty bay of windows flank a future workspace in the building. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Any empty bay of windows flank a future workspace in the building. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
working with NorthWestern Energy

“It’s a great opportunity to pursue energy efficient technologies. That’s part of this master planning work,” Hallstrom said. “Our architects have been working with our climate action team to identify some of those key areas.”

Energy grants could also be coupled with historic preservation grants, Hallstrom added. The building was constructed in 1913 and housed the Forest Service for nearly a century. The facility’s only remaining occupant is the U.S. Postal Service.

“There’s a nice mix of supplemental resources. Part of this work is getting that (funding) stack fully built out and getting those scoped. It’s part of our solution to the funding puzzle,” Hallstrom said.

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Gallery Credit: Joe Cunningham

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