If one doesn’t know the historic Lincoln schoolhouse, the tall Craftsman-style building can look a little peculiar surrounded by the square block of new houses off Rattlesnake Drive.

The school and its prominent cupola reach well above the homes that also have Craftsman stylings of peaked eaves, exposed beams and windowed dormers.

The schoolhouse’s front lawn and flagpole are still intact, along with a reconstructed iron fence matching the original, providing a historic entry that welcomed classes until 1982, and will soon welcome homeowners.

Builders Jim Pelger and Jeremy Moran are inching closer to completion on building out four upscale condos inside the schoolhouse. They launched a website last week and are taking calls for people interested in putting money down on a unit.

“We’ve got a bunch of people interested, but it’s only been a couple of days,” Pelger said.

Tuesday, Pelger and Moran showed off the work they’ve completed so far: The outside of the school is almost done and the inside of each unit is built out just enough to make floor plans discernible.

Walking up the front steps, Pelger points out a couple of changes. First, two added dormers on the roof, to enable them to raise roof heights from the basement up to the top floor. Then, a refinished black grout holding together the stonework that encases the bottom part of the building.

The unique black grout was painstakingly finished to match the original building, Moran said, by scraping out the gray cement.

“I think we don’t see it much anymore cause it’s a lot harder,” he said.

The split-level entryway staircase was disassembled into thousands of individual pieces, sanded, refinished and put back together, Pelger said. Missing parts were fashioned out of reclaimed wood from another one of Pelger’s projects in Philipsburg.

A lot of the high, exposed beams in the entryway and units are reclaimed wood as well, Pelger pointed out.

The four units’ front doors are on the main hallway, opening to one upper and one lower unit on each side of the building.

“They’re both awesome, but in completely different ways,” Pelger said.

The upper units have the new windowed dormers — “This is the killer view back here,” Pelger said, looking out the window facing west. “It’s a little bit socked in, but you can see up to Stuart Peak.”

The windows on the other side of the building look straight up the Bitterroot.

And the lower units benefit from the raised ceilings — “We were afraid that this could feel like a basement, but it doesn’t at all,” Pelger said.

The units are encased in energy-efficient foam insulation, as well as floor-to-ceiling soundproof mat, that’s effective enough Pelger said he can’t hear some construction noise through the walls.

Pelger and Moran went to a lot of effort to maintain the original building’s character — the black grouting and reassembled staircase as examples — but couldn’t save everything.

One partially finished basement wall covered an original chalkboard, unable to be repurposed because it’s painted straight onto the cement.

Pelger and Moran got the schoolhouse after it sat vacant for years. It was a Baptist church for a time after the school district stopped using it in 1982. Neighbors blocked a sale to another church with a lawsuit, wanting to keep the block residential-only. 

Though Pelger and Moran have had to step through a few extra hoops because of neighbors’ desires, working with the neighborhood has been more beneficial than not, they say.

A parking lot was vetoed, and, although there is some on-street parking available, Pelger and Moran wanted to provide some better options for tenants.

So they got the go-ahead to build a four-car carriage house behind the school, that matched the Craftsman style.

Two units will have access to a studio/office space in the garage, while two just have parking spots.

So — the price for one of these top-of-the-line 1,800-square-foot units in the historic schoolhouse?

The base price (according to Pelger’s and Moran’s planned finishes) is $679,000.

Out of many projects Pelger’s done in recent years, he’s most satisfied with the Lincoln School.

“This is different,” he said. “More like refurbishing an antique rather than remodeling a building.

“I feel really proud.”

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.