The future of Butte's Knights of Columbus council is uncertain as its 92-year-old building at 224 W. Park St. falls into disrepair.
Bernie Boyle, who runs the local organization, said the rising cost of heating, declining membership and the age of the structure are making operations more difficult.
"This building is at a real crossroads, no doubt about it," Boyle said during an interview on Monday. "It's starting to decay and fall apart." The Knights of Columbus first organized in Butte in 1902; the three-story building was erected at the Park and Idaho in 1917.
In its heyday, more than 1,000 people belonged to the all-male, Catholic fraternity in Butte, Boyle said. Now, though it is open to women, its dues-paying membership has dipped to around 160.
That means income for the organization has decreased, yet the cost of running the building has gotten more expensive each year.
The leaky, 20-year-old roof is in desperate need of replacement, and also lacks energy efficiency. The building's power bill alone was more than $1,700 last month, said Boyle.
Problems also exist with the plumbing: original galvanized pipes are in danger of breaking at any time, likely meaning the end of the K of C.
"We don't have fire insurance, liability insurance," said Boyle. "In an old place like this we just can't afford it. If there was a catastrophe, we'd be done." It would be a quick end to one of the longest running organizations in the city, but Boyle is determined to do what he can to rescue it.
The K of C building recently updated its lighting with help from Butte-Silver Bow and NorthWestern Energy, which has saved money.
KC also applied for a competitive state historic preservation grant, which could be worth upwards of $300,000. It's unknown yet whether the money will come through.
It would greatly help save the building, but the wish list of things they'd like to fix is long.
"First thing is to solidify the roof," said Boyle. "Then try and replace all the plumbing that is original. There is a lot of wiring that needs to be changed. We'd like to put some money upstairs and get a new hot water heating system." But Boyle believes the KC can survive.
"It's not that far gone," he said.
A spacious and unique second-floor ballroom needs only a paint job and new hardwood floors to be used for weddings or other ceremonies, and its downstairs dining room and bar are in relatively good condition. It often hosts funeral receptions, which the KC offers for donation only.
Its bar is open nightly, helping to provide a revenue stream, and special dinners are offered throughout the week.
The gymnasium, which hosts a men's basketball league Monday through Thursday and kids' games on the weekends, is in excellent shape, he said. A small exercise facility has more than 150 members, many of whom visit religiously.
Jack Haffey of Anaconda makes the trip about four times a week, he said.
"It's an icon in Butte, Montana," said Haffey. "It's as nice a place as you can find for workout and exercise opportunities and camaraderie with the people there is excellent." Boyle said keeping the building in use is his top concern.
But he feels that a large cash infusion is necessary, too.
"We need some serious carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and some serious money to get this running," he said.
— Reporter Tim Trainor may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 496-5519.