More than Meets the Eye

Have you seen what’s going on at the Willson School?

As is the case with many preservation efforts there is a lot more going on below the surface. However, in this case it literally is the surface that is the focus of this conservation project. The current undertaking is a continuation of the initial phase of work which involved replacing the majority of single-pane windows with more energy efficient ones throughout designated portions of the building completed during the summer of 2017. This summer’s efforts will involve replacing the remainder of windows, as well as addressing an array of issues such as detached masonry units, crumbling concrete pilasters and general cleaning and sealing of the building.

Designed by renowned Bozeman Architect Fred Willson, the Willson Administrative Building was built in the mid-1930s. This Art-Deco building, located at 404 West Main Street, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is of major importance as it is one of three outstanding examples of the Art Deco style surviving in Bozeman, including the Bozeman Armory, Hamill Apartments, and the Gallatin County Courthouse. Commonly referred to as the Willson School, this building is historically significant as it is the only remaining school in Bozeman that dates from before the Great Depression. The architects at Comma-Q know more about the Willson Building than any architects in Bozeman. Comma-Q has overseen several recent renovations including a major renovation of the auditorium in 2015, as well as badly needed updates to the office suites, lobby and corridor.

The building is primarily a cast-in-place concrete structure with exposed concrete walls at the exterior of the building. The north facade and the primary west facade have a cast stone veneer attached to the concrete or in some cases, a brick core. The building is showing its age with lichen covered surfaces, spalling concrete, and partially detached stone units to name a few of the issues. Water penetration and freeze/thaw cycling has compromised the integrity of this cast‐in-place concrete building. While many cracks are visible across the building’s exterior, none are of major structural concern. The cracks do however provide an avenue for water infiltration and inevitable long-term degradation of the concrete. The intent of this project is to stabilize potentially dangerous conditions, eliminate water intrusion and provide a general facelift to the building. These goals will be addressed by reattaching stone veneer at locations where masonry anchors have failed, repointing masonry units, patching spalling concrete including an intensive parapet rebuilding and window header repair at the gymnasium, repairing cast-in-place concrete details, and cleaning and sealing all surfaces. The effort involves carefully coordinating work by masonry contractors and window installers. The project is currently on schedule with an anticipated completion date this Fall.



As with most preservation efforts the stabilization and conservation of an historic landmark requires comprehensive attention to details as there are typically layers of issues that need to be carefully considered and respected. Comma-Q Architecture takes great pride in infusing new life into these special places that have shaped Bozeman’s history to ensure that they can be appreciated for future generations. The work we do is cool and when it comes to historic preservation projects, it is always a labor of love.