The spring rain will find few obstructions as it falls over the Missoula Mercantile, with some drops now making their way to the dusty basement without interference.
Deconstruction crews with Home ReSource continued to dismantle the downtown building this week, and expect to have the salvage job completed by April.
The building’s roof is gone, along with the floors below it. Looking down from the top floor of the First Interstate Bank building, the “Murky Merc”—as one City Council member described it last year—now resembles the skeleton of a 17th-century galleon propped up by a rickety brick veneer.
“We’re probably close to 75 percent done with our portion of the contract,” said Jason Nuckolls, the deconstruction manager for Home ReSource. “The biggest part of our contract is to deconstruct and take as much usable, heavy-duty lumber as we can without the building falling down on us.”
The work began earlier this year after a Missoula District Court judge settled a lawsuit filed by a group of preservationists looking to save the building, and it has gone quickly, according to Nuckolls.
The windows have been removed, along with the grand staircase and other prized materials. While the rafters remain in place, the building is now open to the sky above.
“You can take a look at a building like this and understand how it’s held together, but this one is more challenging,” Nuckolls said. “It’s four buildings in one, built from the 1870s to the 1930s. We’ll leave the structural pieces in place so the walls don’t come down. There’s a lot of spaces right now where you can stand in the basement and look straight up at the sky.”
It’s too soon to estimate the quantity of materials removed, though Nuckolls is confident that his 15-man crew has removed tens of thousands of board feet of rough-cut lumber, including a number of 2-by-16s.
Nuckolls said that amount of rough-cut lumber is rare, with most of it resembling turn-of-the century milling techniques. It’s these “face materials” that his crew is working to salvage for potential reuse in the Mercantile hotel planned for the downtown corner.
“We have a list of materials we call face materials, like architectural pieces, the staircase, the safe, that we’re salvaging for the owner to reuse in the new building,” Nuckolls said. “These are things the architects think they might be able to use in the new structure.”
Salvage crews will store the face materials throughout the deconstruction process. Nuckolls said Home ReSource has been charged with preserving the items, ensuring they’re logged for consideration in the design of new hotel.
Any materials not included in the new structure will be sold to the public at Home ReSource. Some of the lumber could be available in the next few months.
“We’d like to get a big chunk of that processed and open the doors to Missoula,” Nuckolls said. “We’ve got the space for it at Home ReSource. It’s not easy storing that amount and processing it, but we’re glad to do it.”
Once the deconstruction work is completed in the next few weeks, Nuckolls said heavy equipment will arrive on site and begin to bring down the brick exterior. A brick giveaway has been discussed, though the details haven’t been finalized.
Nuckolls said the deep foundation—nearly half a city block—will then be backfilled, setting the stage for new construction. The trick, he said, is to do the work while leaving the old pharmacy section of the building intact.
That portion of the structure faces Higgins Avenue and has yet to be touched. The developer, HomeBase Montana, was required to place a deposit to ensure the pharmacy is saved.
“As needed, we’ll do work in there as they understand how that will communicate with the new building,” Nuckolls said. “When we’re done, the heavy equipment will come in and take the brick walls down. A third contractor will backfill the hole. We’ll be done in the beginning of April with our portion.”
Yet anything hidden inside the building by past city residents probably disappeared several years ago when crews attempted to prepare the building for reuse, Nuckolls said.
“There’s not as much as you’d think,” he said. “In 2011, a big demo happened and they brought everything down to the bare walls. I think those trinkets and things were scoured from the building.”
Nuckolls said the developers will look to include the historic finds in the new building, which will include a Mews, or interior museum. The feature is planned as part of the five-story Marriott hotel, along with ground floor retail and dining, and a second-floor pool.
For Nuckolls, who’s been in the deconstruction business with Home Resource for four years, the Mercantile represents his largest project to date. The business is run like any other, and Home ReSource has learned to compete with others in the growing deconstruction industry.
“We work just like any other contractor,” he said. “Sometimes we deconstruct, salvage and repair the items for reuse. Oftentimes, our clients will donate those materials to our store as a tax write-off.”
This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.