Work to preserve and renovate Donaldson Hall is underway and many wait in anticipation to discover the historic building’s next purpose.
Donaldson Hall was the third building on the Northern Montana College campus — now Montana State University-Northern. It started off as a women’s dormitory and was first furnished and occupied in 1936. According to “A Northern Reflection,” a book of the university’s history, poor building materials and construction materials caused problems with the building from the start.
“Here’s what’s in the works,” Jim Potter, of Montana State University-Northern’s public relations said. “This is the first phase of what we hope will be several.”
The phase Donaldson Hall is in now is the “stabilization” phase. That entails drainage of the water in the basement and cleaning and repairing the bricks.
“We’re just making sure the water doesn’t get in and break down outside bricks,” Potter said. “This work will give Donaldson another 10 years. This work will be done within the year.”
Potter said the next phase of work, the “exploring” phase, will decide what will happen to the building in the future. Potter and his team are looking at several options, but no decisions or actions have been taken toward any fate for the building.
“We’re going to research to determine the best use for the facility and what the cost will be to renovate it for that use,” Potter said. “This phase should take a year or two. People won’t see a lot of work being done at the building. There will be a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on, like looking for grants.”
Afterward, the renovation of the building to fit the needs of what purpose is assigned to it and also to bring it up to codes will begin. The proposal for this could happen within the next few years. Though the building will surely be used for classrooms, Donaldson’s ultimate fate is currently unknown, according to Potter.
Crews work to renovate Montana State University-Northern's Donaldson Hall Thursday afternoon.
Donaldson Hall used to be an auxiliary building, which means the university could not use state funds to do renovations or any expensive project because auxiliary building through fees have to pay their own way, like a gym or dormitory.
The paperwork was sent through to make Donaldson Hall an academic building, thereby opening up funds needed to start the work.
The Northern Alumni Association worked to restore Donaldson Common 10 years ago and Potter said they will keep the ballroom open for events during Donaldson Hall’s renovations.
“It’s a beautiful old ballroom, and we want to still be able to use it,” Potter said.
Antoinette “Toni” Hagener, who wrote a book of the university’s history called “A Northern Reflection,” said, “Donaldson Hall is one of the original buildings on the campus and it had kind of a special place in people’s hearts. I appreciate the fact they’re trying to preserve the building.”