Consultants survey Helena Fire Tower ahead of proposed rehab

Nolan Lister

A trio of historic timber structure experts surveyed the Helena Fire Tower Monday as part of a push to rehabilitate the downtown icon.

The more than $200,000 project aims to repair the structure’s decayed timber beams and at least a half dozen joints around its base.

Dick Schmidt, a structural engineer specializing in timber structures, runs the fittingly named Fire Tower Engineered Timber, based in Wyoming. Schmidt is one of the three experts brought in Monday to look over the Guardian of the Gulch.

The structure’s current problems, he said, are “principally decay.”

He said that since its construction in the 1870s, moisture has collected in the mortise-and-tenon joints, the checks and splits, breeding fungi that eats away the wood fiber.

As a result, at least six of the joints will likely need to be replaced along with the end segments of the timber beams and their tenons.

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The project also aims to address some of the previous repair efforts, that were made in good faith but were not exactly best practice when it comes to both historic preservation and timber framing.

Doug Porter runs Porter & Associates

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