A proposed $300,000 project that could start next month would mean more than a new retaining wall to keep the Montana Street hill from crumbling into the Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse.

It would also create more space that could serve as a public plaza with tables and chairs, and it would pave the way for a new foundation to be built below the granite steps leading up to the main courthouse entrance on its south side.

Montana Street could become one lane in each direction north of Granite Street and angled parking spaces might be added on the east side of the road.

And if commissioners OK the project and all goes as planned, the work will be done in-house by county employees from various divisions and departments.

“The collaboration has been just fabulous, really,” said Butte-Silver Bow Buildings Director Pat Holland. “Here we are starting out with a block of funds to do a project — and seeing how this could get out of hand at any time — the departments came together and said, ‘Hey, this in in our wheelhouse to do’ and then bring it in.’”

Commissioners set aside $300,000 in the last budget to repair and reinforce a wall that has protected the century-old courthouse from water and erosion and kept a top portion of Montana Street in place. Officials gave the council an update on the proposed project Wednesday night. 

It made more sense to construct an entirely new wall, they say. Design work has been done and excavation of the old wall could start next month unless commissioners object.

“It could end up being a spring project, but we think we can get it done this fall,” said Public Works Director Dave Schultz. “The courthouse is a nice area, so we don’t want to make it a big mud-hole for the entire winter.”

The current wall has existed for decades and might be original to the courthouse, which was built between 1910 and 1912. It runs the length of the west side of the building, but a large deck area narrows to only about 8 feet toward the north end.

Large swaths of the wall have sloughed off, sending crumbled granite and concrete onto the deteriorating deck and walkway. The problems have gotten worse in recent years, prompting the county to put money aside for its repair.

Once the old wall is removed, a new wall will start going up. It will be made of concrete material that might resemble rough, gray rocks or cobblestones.

Instead of narrowing at the north, the new wall will be moved about 20 feet to the west in that spot so the entire structure runs parallel to the courthouse, said Jonathan Bargmann, an engineering technician for the county. That will free up space wide enough for a plaza area.

That will include a new concrete, patterned surface area and replacing old decking that has been slowly peeling away.

“Light poles have to be removed and trees have to be removed” and then be replaced, Bargmann said, adding that a new sidewalk will be built between the wall and Montana Street.

The project could affect a water main that runs along Montana Street in that block, but it may be possible to simply cap it while other work is being done without digging up the street.

Metro Operations Manager Matt Moore, who helps oversee the county’s water infrastructure, said a lot of the design work was done in-house “so we have saved money" already.

The final tab likely will come close to the $300,000 commissioners set aside, officials say, but they’re optimistic it can be done within budget.

“If we do run into problems we can deal with those in-house,” Moore said.

When completed, the west side of the courthouse can become the primary entrance temporarily while the front, granite steps on the south side are dug up so a deteriorating foundation below them can be rebuilt. That project could be done sometime next summer, Holland said.

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Government and politics reporter

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