Asbestos removal from the former James F. Battin Federal Courthouse in downtown Billings has begun, signaling a fresh start for the prominent five-story structure that has sat empty for several years.
A contest to rename the building also is underway.
Quentin Eggart, president of EEC, the Billings firm managing the renovations, said Monday the asbestos removal started a few weeks ago and should be finished in six to eight months.
A crew of about 50 “skilled and certified workers” is performing the removal work, Eggart said. Asbestos is in large portions of the building material on each floor.
The company doing the work is Spray Systems of Arizona, whose owners have Montana roots, he said.
Building renovations, both internal and external, also will be done as floors are cleared of asbestos, he said.
The estimated cost of $4 million to remove the cancer-causing material commonly found in older buildings is more than the $3.2 million the new owner paid to buy the building.
But the cost of abating the asbestos is about one third less than the $10 million to $16 million preliminary estimate given to the federal government when the building first became available for sale, Eggart said.
“We have not applied for any financial help from anyone for removal of asbestos,” Eggart said.
He called the $4 million to remove asbestos “very reasonable.”
The building’s owner has “paid 100 percent cash for everything. There’s no bank loan on the property,” Eggart said.
WC Commercial LLC, an Alaska company, bought the total indebtedness on the building, located at 316 N. 26th St., in July at a foreclosure sale. The company was the only bidder.
Owner Joe Holden said in a news release, “We are excited to begin the process of bringing this building back to life in downtown Billings.” He also thanked Big Sky Economic Development and the city of Billings for their support.
WC earlier announced plans to remove the asbestos and remodel the building into quality office space. The 50-year-old building has about 213,000 square feet of space and underground parking.
Eggart said the owner is in final negotiations with potential anchor tenants and is looking for more tenants. He declined to identify the possible anchor tenants because of pending talks.
As part of the new beginning for the building, EEC is holding a naming contest. The winner will receive $500.
Eggart said the contest is an opportunity to get the public involved in a “community landmark” and to find a more creative name than “the former Battin building,” as it is commonly called.
Youth and adults are welcome to submit entries, along with their names and contact information, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submitting names is Jan. 31.
The federal government sold the former courthouse for $3.27 million at auction in 2013 to Colorado Tire Corp. of Tacoma, Wash., which owned it for three years. Property taxes went delinquent, and the building has all but been abandoned.
Because of the asbestos problem, the federal government built a new, $80 million courthouse a few blocks away.