The interior of the Commercial Building at the Missoula County Fairgrounds still smells like fresh paint, and the finishing touches were being added to the exterior staircase Monday as the building was readied for its grand reopening on Wednesday.

Often hailed as “the heart and soul” of the fairgrounds property, the iconic 104-year-old Commercial Building had fallen into disrepair and was close to collapsing only a year ago.

But after a $2.5 million facelift, the aluminum siding and green metal roofing are gone, replaced by horizontal drop-lap siding and a roof that looks more like the original sawn wood shingles. Masonite and pegboard walls were removed to restore the original white sheathing, complete with the historic cracks, and new hardwood flooring glistens.

And at the far west end, a glass-walled elevator makes the second floor handicap-accessible for those who can’t navigate the stairways.

"The building basically was stripped to the bones, lifted up so a new foundation could be poured," said Tom Aldrich, the project manager for the Western Montana Fair. "It has lots of new features, but we built it to be historically accurate to a 1915 Craftsman style." 

Burnich Frame & Moulding of Missoula rebuilt the windows, including the enormous arched window on the front. More than 40 smaller windows that line the north and south sides of the building help light up the room while the large wooden rooftop cupolas once again help circulate air.

The structure also sits atop a new concrete foundation, and the wiring, heating, security, lightning, and safety systems also are expected to add another 100 years to the building’s life expectancy.

"It's move-in ready," Aldrich said. "But we'll be putting in some finishing touches after the fair." Those mainly involve landscaping.

The bulk of the project comes from county general funds.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated for 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, which will herald the opening of the Western Montana Fair. Officials at the fairground anticipate the building will be overflowing with handmade local crafts from hundreds of local artisans.

Speakers at the ceremony will include Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, local historian Jim Harmon, and Architect Paul Filicetti.

The fair runs through Aug. 11. Admission is free.

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