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When Montana Tech professor Kumar Ganesan drove by the vacant Butte Central school and gym building on the corner of Park and Washington streets in Uptown Butte several years ago, he thought as many from Butte have  thought while passing formerly illustrious buildings: someone ought to do something with that.

“I thought, I’ll take a challenge,” Ganesan said, who owns the building with his wife Pankajam. “I took the project and I took it seriously.”

An environmental engineering instructor, Ganesan has taught at Tech for 35 years. He purchased the building in 2011. He originally hoped to establish a business in the building, but later turned its classrooms and auditorium into commercial rentals. Since then, a host of businesses have called the building home.

According to Ganesan, several of those businesses have gone on to bigger and better things after expanding their operations, making the building a business incubator of sorts.

Today the building is known as the Mining City Center and it’s where Ganesan has offered affordable commercial space to upstart businesses. The building currently has around seven tenants, and rent for former classrooms is about $360 to $450 a month. Annually, the building generates around $64,020 in rents.

Ganesan said he put a lot of time an energy into renovating the first and second floors of the building. The building is well-maintained and has recently received new flooring and paint in several areas.

Most of the bathrooms have been updated as well, while the hallways are partially lined in tile and granite, which adds a professional and aesthetically pleasing touch.

The 21,483-square-foot, $550,000 building has two stories and a basement. In all, it has a modern feel, but parts of the building actually go back to the late 1880s.

The property is the former site of St. Patrick Parochial School. Built in 1888, the educational facility opened as a grade school and high school, and for several years it operated as an elementary school.

The original building was constructed with the architectural sensibilities of its day. Standing at three-stories, the Victorian-like building featured a tower at its center.

The property was renovated in 1925, but in 1955 a $200,000 major overhaul of the building took place, resulting in an almost entirely new structure. The renovation included the removal of the building’s third story, the inclusion of modern structural materials and the creation of the façade Butte residents know today.

“There is an entirely new ‘look’ to the building,” a 1955 article unveiling the renovation states. “It is to all intents and purposes a new school. Gone is the old third floor with its steeple-like protrusion.”

The renovation would have been around $1.9 million in today’s dollars.

Later, the building became an annex building for Butte Central High School.

Today many of the businesses at the Mining City Center are art-based—including a music production company, upholstery business, scrapbooking company and painting studio — creating an artist community of sorts.

And in keeping with the building’s past as a place of spiritual education, a handful of faith-based organizations have occupied the building over the years, including Fresh Life Church, which is currently renting out classroom space and the center’s auditorium.

“I just think this is such a unique property,” said Denise Kelly, listing agent and owner of ReMax Premier of Butte, adding that the Mining City Center shows what can be done with old commercial buildings. She added that she’s inspired by Kumar’s vision for revitalization.

“He’s allowed new businesses to get a start when otherwise it would not have been possible,”

Tessa Zimmerer, ReMax marketing manager, agreed.

“It’s a creative destination, for sure.”

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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