A deconstruction crew from Home ReSource in Missoula has completed the portion of work they can do by hand inside the historic Missoula Mercantile downtown, clearing the way for the big machines to finish it off.

A demolition crew will move in the machines next week to systematically dismantle the rest of the building, including the exterior walls, while salvaging as much of the remaining timber, steel, brick and other materials as possible.

The pharmacy building portion of the Merc will be preserved, and will be the only thing left standing by the time the site is excavated, cleared and backfilled by June 1. Construction of a new, 150-room Marriott hotel, with 23,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, will begin immediately after.

Jason Nuckolls, the deconstruction manager at the non-profit Home ReSource in Missoula, said his crew was able to save the historic copper awning on the west exterior of the building. That will be featured in the new hotel.

“The deconstruction portion of the interior of the building is wrapping up,” he said. “We salvaged everything we can by hand.”

Nuckolls said that he hopes the success of dismantling this historic, large building – rather than hitting it with a wrecking ball and taking everything to the landfill – will show other developers that salvaging old buildings is both cost-effective, relatively straightforward and provides benefits to the community.

“One of the big, exciting things about this project and deconstruction is that this shows that deconstruction can be done on a large-scale level with large buildings,” he said.

“Missoula’s lucky to have folks that are able to do this and preserve these materials in our community. We hope that this project spotlights and shows that this can happen in other communities, as well.''

The historic copper awning will be reused in the hotel, where a “Missoula Mews” area – a public indoor alleyway – will feature artifacts from the building.

The Merc was built in stages starting in the late 1870s. Nuckolls said his crew found it challenging because there were at least four different portions that were built at different times, with different materials using different methods.

However, he estimated that his crews found 25 percent more salvageable material than they originally anticipated. That includes huge quantities of rough-cut lumber, which he said is “extremely valuable.”

The lumber, timber beams and other materials will be stored at the Home ReSource site on Russell Street, where it will be sold to the public. A brick giveaway is planned in the future, but a site and date hasn’t been determined yet.

The Missoula Mercantile is listed on the National Register of Historic places and was the economic hub of western Montana for many decades.

HomeBase Montana, led by Bozeman developer Andy Holloran, is the building’s current owner. HomeBase will donate everything they can’t use to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

Holloran has said the hotel will create jobs and bring a spark of economic activity to the downtown area in the form of tourists who will be looking to shop and dine.

The project was opposed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, but that panel’s decision to deny a demolition permit was later overturned by the City Council and a judge.

A company called Spirtas Wrecking from St. Louis, Missouri will be doing the systematic demolition with heavy equipment.

“What they’ll be doing is pulling the building apart piece by piece with those machines,” Nuckolls said. “They’ll salvage any of the big beams and timbers we weren’t able to get.”

The Higgins Avenue brick wall will be taken down more by hand, Nuckolls said, to keep it from spilling onto the street.

Oh, and Nuckolls said people need not worry whether there will be enough bricks to go around.

“There will be enough for everybody who wants bricks,” Nuckolls said. His crew also found old bricks in an awning in the basement carved with names starting in the 1880s, which they salvaged. Those will be used in the new building or donated to the museum.

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