Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With the downtown federal building now in public ownership, city and county officials are working to firm up the administrative body that oversees the property and get a firm handle on the cost of preparing the property for public use.

The building, now known as the John Engen Local Government Building, was officially acquired by the city and county last year. The two governments formed a special district to create a single entity in order to receive the property under the federal government’s Good Neighbor Program.

Receipt of the building was free but came with a promise to preserve the historic property in perpetuity. Tuesday’s actions, which included a contract approval with Jackson Contractor Group, marked a step in that direction and sets the stage for the construction phase down the road.

“Right now, we’ve tasked Jackson and the design team to help us understand what the initial project will look like. They’re in the midst of that effort,” said John Adams, the city’s special projects administrator. “We’ll be able to sort through what the path forward will be. That information and those choices will be made this summer.”

The building sat empty for years before the city and county officially acquired it early last year. Shortly after, Missoula County and the city approved using American Rescue Plan Act funding to begin moving forward. The total cost of that initial phase was set at $2.5 million, and the annual operating budget was set at $387,000.

To oversee the path forward, the administrative body on Tuesday adopted a resolution establishing it as the manager of the property. That includes the day-to-day operations and future capital improvements, which are expected to begin down the road.

The resolution also allows Chris Lounsbury, the county’s CAO, and Dale Bickell, the city’s CAO, to handle most contracts in house. Larger issues, like budgetary considerations, will need to go before elected officials.

“It establishes limited authority to implement things the administrative body has already directed staff to complete,” said Adams. “It also doesn’t do anything about budget authority, which has to go back to the elected bodies that govern the city and county.”

As Jackson firms up a plan over the coming months, the administrative body is expected to recommend a budget to the City Council and Board of County Commissioners.

“That will then go to the commissioners and City Council for approval, moderation or objection,” Adams said. “Those bodies hold the purse strings and set out the parameters and rules under which the administrative body and special district operates.”

The city and county last year issued a request for proposals to carry out future remediation and construction of the property. Melissa Fisher, the county’s manager of strategic initiatives, said Jackson was selected for the job.

Jackson, along with A&E architects, will present a plan this summer, including the abatement of lead and asbestos and a construction plan.

“Right now, we’re in a phase working closely with the designers, and Jackson is participating in that process to determine what the right path forward is,” said Fisher. “Jackson will also oversee abatement of the building for both lead and asbestos. They’ll ultimately oversee construction when we get there.”

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.

Both the city and county plan to consolidate services in the federal building, creating a one-stop location for most public needs. But it will also allow the city and county to vacate other downtown properties or, in some cases, cut rent expenses.

It’s likely that certain properties currently owned by the city and county in the downtown district will be sold to help cover construction and renovation of the federal building.

“We’re still sorting exactly what the order of operations and what the scope will be of what we’ll be able to accomplish,” said Adams, adding that a plan is expected this summer.

Missoula Get First Look at the New Cybertruck

Gallery Credit: KC

The Missoula Current is a Montana owned and operated news organization founded in 2015 to help fill the void in local journalism, and we've been free to read ever since. If you would like to read the original article, click here.