Lincoln School

The historic Lincoln Schoolhouse in the Rattlesnake has new owners.

A group of neighboring property owners closed on the deteriorating 1914 brick building and three adjoining lots on March 31.

That was six days after the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Missoula backed out of an agreement with a credit union to buy the schoolhouse in the face of a lawsuit by the same neighborhood group.

“When UUFM chose to step back from the transaction, Missoula Federal Credit Union entered a discussion with neighbors within the subdivision about purchasing the remaining lots and the schoolhouse building,” said Jack Lawson, president and chief executive officer of MFCU. “We are pleased that we were able to arrive at an agreement that puts the future of the development in the hands of these neighbors.”

The sale comes with a deed restriction that calls for the exterior of the schoolhouse to be maintained in “substantially its current state and current condition” for at least 10 years.

Lawson said the neighbors formed a limited liability corporation to make the purchase. The warranty deed lists the address of SPSHA, LLC, as 2216 Gilbert Ave., the residence of Felix and Patricia Petrilli. Felix Petrilli was perhaps the most vocal opponent of a Missoula City Council action in December that approved a religious assembly conditional use request by UUFM, which planned to renovate the building into a larger meeting place than it currently occupies in the University District.

Felix Petrilli refused comment this week on the purchase and future plans for the schoolhouse. He told the Missoulian in December that he and other property owners had told the credit union they were interested in buying and developing the schoolhouse and remaining lots and keeping them residential.

The small subdivision bounded by Rattlesnake Drive, Lolo Street and Gilbert Avenue was approved in 2008. Missoula Federal Credit Union assumed title to the school and vacant adjacent lots in 2014 after a private development stalled out in hard economic times.

The schoolhouse was last used as a school in 1982. It was later used as an art studio, dance studio and the Lincoln Baptist Church when it wasn’t vacant. It was listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

According to the deed restriction, repairs and improvements can be made to the exterior of the schoolhouse when it’s being remodeled or renovated, but those changes can’t diminish the building’s historic integrity or violate national register guidelines.

The restriction can be enforced by either the credit union, the Missoula Historic Preservation Officer or the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission.

A listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not prohibit demolition. Should a demolition permit application be filed, the building would be subject to the same review by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission as the Missoula Mercantile is undergoing.

The Park Service website indicates the new owners could be eligible for a 20 percent investment tax credit for the certified rehabilitation of the schoolhouse if it's rented out to tenants. From the federal perspective, the property owners can do whatever they want with their property if there are no federal monies attached, but they're advised to be aware of state or local preservation laws that may apply.

After assuming ownership of the Lincoln School, Missoula Federal Credit Union placed the vacant lots on the market but issued a request for proposals for the schoolhouse. Unitarian Universalist was selected from a handful of applicants last July.

MFCU listed three primary goals in disposition of the property: to further the financial interests of its members, to preserve the historic significance of the building and site, and to protect potential community benefits in the future use of the property.

“I think we succeeded there, I really do,” Lawson said this week. “This is not a bad outcome. The neighbors have committed to preserving the schoolhouse. I think it’s a good outcome.”

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian