By Tim Leeds
A project begun 14 years ago or rather 123 years ago has received new life.
The Havre City Council on Monday approved adding $27,186 of Community Transportation Enhancement Project money to work on stabilizing the post trader's building at Fort Assinniboine, about six miles south of Havre.
Construction of the fort, which houses Montana State University's Northern Agricultural Research Center, began in 1879, and Craig Erickson said during the meeting that the building's age shows.
"If it's not the oldest building in Hill County, it is one of the oldest in our community," he said. "And it looks terrible. You can stand inside the building and watch light shine through the walls. It's what you would expect a 123-year-old building to look like."
Erickson, planner for Bear Paw Development Corp., administers the city's CTEP funds. Money from the federal program must be used to preserve or enhance structures or areas adjacent to or visible from transportation systems, like U.S. Highway 87 which runs near the fort.
Erickson presented the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association's request for the money at the meeting. With the city's newest allocation, the association now has the $80,800 it needs to stabilize the post trader's building.
In its vote Monday night, the council shifted $10,000 from another project it had already approved for the fort and added $17,186.
Gary Wilson, president of the association, said this morning that fixing the post trader's building is the most pressing need at the fort.
"'Cause it's going to fall down shortly," he said.
The need to fix the building is twofold, he added. Not only is it a historic structure the fort was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1989 but it's also a working building for the ag station.
"If it fell down they would lose their soil lab," he said,
The CTEP money will give the association enough to put the job out for bids, which will be handled by Erickson, Wilson said.
The process to stabilize the trader's building began about two years ago.
"We went through several trials and errors trying to get the work done," Wilson said.
Jim McDonald of A&E Architects from Missoula, who did the engineering to restore the state Capitol, did the engineering for the Fort Assinniboine building, Wilson said. The amount McDonald said it would cost to restore the building was more than $100,000 much more than the association had available.
When asked for a bare-bones minimum to stabilize the trader's building, McDonald came back with a figure of $80,800. Wilson said that once Don Anderson, superintendent of the experiment station, agreed to help with matching funds required for CTEP projects, the association's board decided to ask for the additional CTEP money.
Keeping the fort operating, both as an experiment station and as a historic monument, is a cooperative effort among the association, the experiment station and others in the community, Wilson said. Boy Scout Troop 438 has members work at the fort as one of their Scout projects, and members of the troop spoke at Monday night's meeting in support of the CTEP money transfer.
The Scouts have done a lot of work at the fort, Wilson said. They mow, help clean the area and the buildings, and in conjunction with the ag station have completely stabilized the ordnance building at the fort, he said.
"And they love doing it because they're doing something constructive," Wilson said. "They're really a lot of help."
Havre Daily News reporter Jared Ritz contributed to this story.