There are lookers but no bidders yet for old federal courthouse

2013-03-13T21:00:00Z 2014-08-25T11:17:46Z There are lookers but no bidders yet for old federal courthouseBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The members of the group were cagey, keeping mostly to themselves. 

The James F. Battin Federal Building is on the auction block — starting bid: $1 — and a group of seven men came out Wednesday afternoon to get a look under the hood and to kick the tires.

They weren't all prospective buyers. A few in the group were contractors hoping to connect with whoever ends up buying the building and offer their services. 

The federal building is stuffed with asbestos. It's in the floor tiles, under the floor tiles, in the ceiling tiles, above the ceiling tiles and on the walls. 

"You can actually see the spray-on asbestos if you look up there," Kimberly Barnett told the tour group, pointing to the ceiling in one of the service rooms. 

Barnett, a property manager with the federal General Services Administration, led the tour. 

Dallas Cranford owns and operates Liberty Environmental, and one of the services he offers is asbestos abatement. So he showed up for a peek. 

"It's a tough building for abatement," he said. 

He also pointed out that whoever ends up buying the building wouldn't be required to clean up the asbestos. The building operates now with it, he pointed out. 

But even without a requirement, the buyer would probably choose to clean it up. A clean bill of health will make people — investors, future tenants, whoever — more comfortable, he said. 

Rick Kirn, who works for Schroeder Contracting, also was on the tour. He said cleaning up a building this size, more than 221,000 square feet, would be a huge project. 

"They've gotta figure out what they're gonna do," he said. 

So far, no bids have been placed on the building. A few of the potential buyers on the tour said until there's a specific closing date, there probably won't be any bids. 

GSA will announce when the auction is closing when “sufficient marketing efforts have been met” and potential bidders have had a chance to inspect the property.

Charlie Holden was one of those people on the tour inspecting the property. He didn't want to say what he was looking for or even if he was interested in buying. 

"Just looking," he said. 

Surmising what he saw, he added, "It's a big project. A really big project."

And it's not just the asbestos. As Barnett led the group into the subbasement, water stains streaked across the floor, and some of the concrete had corroded away. 

"As you can see, we have a huge groundwater issue," Barnett told the group. 

They've tried three or four times to fix the problem, she said. Each time they've been unsuccessful.

"So we let the water come in and we pump it out," she said. 

Alan Anseth with Yellowstone Electric Co. was on the tour at the request of a third party. He didn't want to say much more than that. 

"I'm looking at things to help," he offered up. 

However, he did point out that Yellowstone Electric was one of the original contractors on the building when the courthouse was built in 1965. 

"It's a great building," he said. 

As Barnett finished up the tour and led the group out of the lobby, she pointed to a sculpted metal wall mural depicting Montanans at work. It's massive, completed years ago by local artist Lyndon Pomeroy.

"The mural," she said, "comes with the building."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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