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Backgrounder

UMW News Bureau

Main Hall, or Old Main as it is affectionally known, is the University of Montana Western’s iconic original building. For over 100 years, the gothic style building has served as an example of excellence in higher education for students, alumni, faculty and the residents of southwest Montana. Originally one building, Main Hall grew as the school grew, growing to its present size with additions in 1907, 1924 and 1951. The Main Hall complex remains a virtual beehive of student, faculty and staff activity. It is often home to 60 or more public events each year. History Montana’s third Legislative assembly provided the establishment of the Montana Normal School and three other institutions in 1893. What the legislative assembly did not do was approve an appropriation. That happened two years later when construction on Main Hall began. The cornerstone to Main Hall, the university’s first building, was placed on April 7, 1896. The building was completed the next year at a cost of $50,000 including furnishings. Main Hall’s gothic structure was designed by German-born Helena architect John C. Paulsen. Educated in Europe, Paulsen also designed the Jefferson County Courthouse, Main Hall at Montana Tech University, the Broadwater Natatorium and the Boise, Idaho city hall. Unfortunately, Paulsen died in March of 1897 and did not live to see Main Hall completed. Until 1907, Main Hall was the only building on campus housing administrative, faculty and support offices, and classrooms. There were 14 rooms, eight of which were labeled as recitation rooms (classrooms or lecture halls). On the first floor (basement), there were three recitation rooms, a laboratory and a men’s restroom. Today, there is an art studio, a men’s restroom, and two art-specific classrooms. In 1896, the second floor featured three recitation rooms, a women’s restroom and the president’s office. The president’s office also served as a registration area for students. Over time, the second floor went through several remodeling projects. Today, the advising center takes the place of the recitation room. The president’s office is now the provost’s office. The School of Outreach, faculty offices and the assistant provost office have replaced two recitation rooms. In 1896, the third floor was occupied by the school’s assembly hall, library (roughly 1,000 volumes) and two recitation rooms. Two classrooms and a hallway have replaced the assembly hall. Experitas (formerly Elderhostel) occupies the former library space and part of one recitation room. English faculty offices occupy the remaining space. In the blueprints, the fourth floor is labeled as unfinished office space. The 1907 addition to Main Hall was designed by C.S. Haire and John Gustave Link. The pair designed over 1,000 buildings across Montana including 18 of the 56 county courthouses. Link was also involved in the design of the Dillon Public Library. The new addition, built at a cost of $90,000, added two science labs, a science lecture room, an exercise gymnasium, five classrooms, a larger library and an auditorium. The first floor (basement) featured a physics lab, a chemistry lab, a science lecture room and an exercise gymnasium with two locker rooms. Today the science labs and lecture room are three fine arts classrooms. The gym is now a drawing studio and art faculty offices. The second floor featured five new classrooms. Not much has changed in contemporary times. There are now four classrooms and the TRIO Student Support Service office. The third floor featured a new two-story 5,000-volume library and a new auditorium that held 300 people. Now, the former library space is two large classrooms. The auditorium was reduced in size adding space for faculty offices. The auditorium, commonly called the “small auditorium,” has undergone technological improvements over the years and is used for student drama and musical productions, classes and university presentations. The fourth floor was balcony space initially, but was changed to a music conservatory in later years. As the college grew, so did the library with over 11,000 volumes in its collection. The library addition to Main Hall was designed in 1924 by Angus Vaughn McIver and Chandler C. Cohagen. McIver helped design the Montana Historical Society building and a Montana State University building. Cohagen designed the Governor’s Mansion in Helena, Mont. and the University of Montana Natural Science building. The new library was built at a cost of $140,000. The first floor featured five classrooms, three faculty offices and restrooms. Now, the first floor features the Emeriti Room, Corr Gallery, Seidensticker Wildlife Gallery, Walton Gallery, Early Childhood Education offices, faculty offices and restrooms. The second level of the library was the entrance to the two-story library reading room along with the collection stacks, catalog room and several miscellaneous offices. Faculty offices, a classroom, conference room and office simulation and computer labs now comprise the second floor. The third level was the upper part of the library reading room, a lecture room and three seminar rooms. The current use is faculty offices and one classroom. The auditorium (now the Beier Auditorium) was the final piece of the present Main Hall building complex. It was designed by Norman J. Hamill and Walter Arnold of Butte, Mont. Hamill also designed Butte Central High School and the main post office in Bozeman, Mont.. Arnold was also the designer of the Rialto Theater in Deer Lodge, Mont. The auditorium was built in 1951 at a cost of $160,000. Seating capacity was listed at 650. The front portion of the first floor of the auditorium building was used for classrooms and shops. The rear portion was used for staging, dressing rooms and a restroom. Today, pottery instruction complete with kilns dominates the rooms. The back portion remains devoted to drama with stage support and dressing rooms. The second floor of the auditorium building was the theater and lobby, which remains the same. Recently, a state-of-the-art sound system was added. In 1980, Main Hall was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preserving Main Hall Age has taken its toll on Old Main. A multi-phase restoration project will strengthen the Main Hall complex, both structurally and in technology to better serve the Montana Western campus and southwestern Montana for future generations. Over 100 years later, the Main Hall complex continues to be the hub of the campus. The complex of four buildings maintains the original intent of the legislature that created the university in 1893. The Project The current renovation and preservation project of the historic Main Hall complex is divided into two phases. In 2007, the Montana Legislature authorized $4.5 million for restoration of Main Hall. A portion of the monies was used for the programming and design development of the entire Main Hall complex renovation project. The remaining dollars will be used in actual construction. The process began with the hiring of Richard M. Shanahan Architects and Sievert & Sievert Historical Architecture, the firms responsible for the programming and design of the entire project. A campus committee also spent much of 2008 designing and developing specific needs for the building’s restoration. The committee also contracted out a set of reports that included a set of “as-built” blueprints, a historical survey and report, a site survey, a geo-technical investigation, an energy study, a seismic study, a structural seismic survey and a hazardous material report. The architects then took the reports and the ideas from the Main Hall committee and developed the blueprints for the design of Phases I and II. In planning, the design team’s goal was to recapture as many classrooms as possible. Their final design resulted in 23 classrooms and 58 offices. The Beier Auditorium and small auditorium will remain functional teaching spaces as well. The final design also showed an increase in conference and work rooms and an increase in restrooms and janitorial spaces. Interestingly, the renovated complex will serve Montana Western today very similarly to the original design intent. Phase I construction includes a critical fire safety upgrade, energy improvements, earthquake stabilization and hallway and lighting upgrades. Swank Construction of Valier, Mont. received the bid for the construction portion of Phase I, which began in June of 2009, and includes the following: • Move Experitas (Elderhostel) and the Division of Outreach to the first floor of the 1896 section. • Restore first and second floor corridors of the 1907 section. • Install central electrical distribution system for Main Hall complex and provide a single location disconnect for fire code and fire prevention. • Seismic stabilization of the 1896 structure and first and second floors of 1907 structure.
  • Safety compliance for first and second floor classrooms in 1896 and 1907 structures.
  • Replace and repair windows in the 1896 and 1907 structures to improve energy conservation.
  • Complete energy efficient mechanical system for the first and second floors of the 1907 structure and all of the 1896 building.
  • Consolidate the English department to the 1896 structure.
Phase II will be funded with a $6 million allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the federal stimulus package. Phase II will feature continued infrastructure, energy and structural improvements. About the University The University of Montana Western was established in 1893 in Dillon, Mont. Originally the state’s normal school for teacher education, the university now provides undergraduate degrees in a number of liberal arts, professional and pre-professional areas. Montana Western is the only public higher education institution in the country using an innovative class scheduling system called Experience One in which students take one class at a time. The university’s curriculum emphasizes experiential learning combining classroom theory with real-world practice.