The gray sky was visible through the trusses that still stood Monday as part of the old mill shed, but the skeleton shell of the building was coming down piece by piece.
At the city maintenance yard just off the Scott Street Bridge, workers with Heritage Timber stacked old cut wood, lowered trusses and piled metal brackets into a wooden bin. A few weeks ago, a driver damaged the already old building beyond repair, and a crew from Heritage stepped in to reclaim the materials, said Heritage’s Gary Delp.
Delp, whose company has deconstructed more than 150 obsolete buildings, had talked earlier with city shops superintendent Jack Stucky about eventually taking down the mill shed.
On Monday as he and the crew worked on the 1930s- or 1940s-era structure, he said the project is a win for the city of Missoula, a boon for Heritage Timber and an opportunity for the people of Missoula, too.
For the city? “It’s a win because it would have been a very costly job to go the conventional route of demolition.”
For Heritage? “For us, it’s a good deal because there’s about 40,000 board feet of wood and another 18,000 feet of metal.”
For people who live in the area? “It gives people in the community an opportunity to have a piece of Missoula history or Montana history in their homes or businesses.”
Heritage does the work for free, but it benefits because it acquires high-quality materials along the way. Delp wouldn’t estimate how much the timber and metal was worth in all, but he said most of the material, 98 percent to 99 percent, was salvageable, and the job put five people to work for a few weeks.
He also said almost nothing but rotted ends will go to the dump. The job yields a lot of useable construction, including “gorgeous, rough-sawn fir,” and it’s a benefit for the environment because 90 percent of the energy is saved when materials are reused, according to Heritage.
“There aren’t many big sawmills left, so we like to do these types of industrial buildings,” Delp said. “That’s really our favorite type.”
Based in Missoula, the company plans to sell some of the lumber and metal in its raw form, and some wood in a more finished form. The rusted roofing gets shipped to customers all over the country, and the wood likely will appear again as flooring, the handsome old timber as exposed beams in homes.
“I’d say most of it will stay in western Montana,” Delp said.
At least a few old beams were going to have a new life in a home right up Grant Creek. Tyler Pfiffner of Pfiffner Design Build had a trailer at the city maintenance site Monday, and he was loading it up for a remodel project.
“We build custom doors out of reclaimed wood that comes from the coast because it usually grew really straight and on a tight grain,” Pfiffner said of coastal trees.
It doesn’t have knots, and it’s stable, and Delp estimated the Pacific Coast was the source of the large beams of the mill shed. Pfiffner said the straight lines are important for doors especially, because you can straighten lumber, but it will curve back into its natural shape.
Older timber also is desirable because it has dried naturally and thoroughly, from the inside out, instead of being basically microwaved, a modern day treatment, Pfiffner said. Lumber that isn’t dried well can twist, and the result is a ruined product.
The pieces he was buying were going to become part of an arched door with a custom form up Grant Creek, and Pfiffner said the remodel was going to include other materials from the mill, too, because the general contractor working on the interior of the home had purchased mill shed materials for the job, too.
The prices of the doors Pfiffner builds run anywhere from under $1,000 to some $15,000 for, say, custom French doors, or doors with side lights, arches, brass and custom, hand-pounded iron fixtures. They can weight as much as 300 pounds.
“People get crazy about doors,” said Pfiffner, who has been purchasing material from Heritage for eight or nine years.
The city used to park vehicles inside the building, but a few weeks ago, a truck hit one of the posts in the building, Delp said. Engineers came down to see about shoring it up, he said, but the damage apparently was beyond repair.
Superintendent Stucky could not be reached Monday, a holiday for the city of Missoula, but Delp said Stucky had long wanted a new garage for the city equipment housed in the shed. Now, one appears to be on its way.
“They did get some money approved to build a new building because this was never adequate,” Delp said.