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Downtown renovation project completed after two years
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Downtown renovation project completed after two years

Casper Journal - November 04, 2013
By Mary Kaiser

Local architect Lyle Murtha and his team at Stateline 7 have rebuilt the newly named T-Square building from the inside out over the last two and a half years, and are ready to show their work to the public. While currently the building at 444 S. Center only houses its architects, its 18,000 square feet will be opened to potential renters in the coming years.

“This [building] is a hodgepodge of remodels spanning almost 100 years,” said Murtha, who is the principal architect of Stateline 7. The downtown structure was originally built in 1917, with additions added in the 1930s and ‘60s. “Everyone just kind of added more junk,” Murtha said.

Before Murtha, the last business the building housed was Party Animals. The building was rumored to have been sold to a buyer in Florida, but soon reverted back to bank ownership. The building then sat empty for nearly a decade.

“The bank wanted all of their money, you know, out of it. And as it sat it got worse and worse,” Murtha said. The original asking price, Murtha recalled, was over $1 million. “They dropped the price significantly, and I had been looking for about a year prior to that for a building.” He ended up spending $500,000 to purchase the building. His goal was to renovate the building, thus preserving part of Casper’s history while working at an equal or lower cost to building new.

One of Murtha’s first decisions was to hire a contractor to gut the building, getting rid of the hodgepodge that had built up over the years.

“I was afraid to turn on the power, water, anything,” Murtha said. The contractor also removed asbestos from the building.

From there, Murtha had many other challenges.

“I didn’t know what kind of character the building had because it had layers and layers of paint,” he said. There was plaster on the bricks and ceilings, and the windows and roof needed to be replaced. “It wasn’t insulated anywhere,” he said.

“The only thing you could readily see that was cool was this terrazzo floor,” Murtha said. “The rest of it was pretty much all surprises as we went.” During construction, Murtha’s crew tore up carpet to reveal preserved hardwood floors underneath.

Murtha set his entire team to work on the building. “Luckily for us we had a little dip [in the number of projects] and it just worked out for us. Lucky for me that I had this. It [was] preferable to laying people off.

“I actually hired an interior designer [Daniel Lipscomb]. His job was basically to do whatever interior design we had in our office and then for the most part he was over here. He had a construction background, he had a degree in architecture and he had a degree in interior design,” Murtha said. “He left right before we finished up.”

And then there were the pigeons. “If you know anything about pigeons — and I didn’t until I bought this building — pigeons are, how you say, familial. Once they roost at your place, all of the generations after them know to come back to your place. So you just can’t get rid of a couple and think that you’ve solved the problem.”

Murtha elected not to use poisons against the birds, but was still left with the need to get rid of them. “Some of them were getting into the building, so we had to shoot them. As our projects kept going ... we obviously left our windows open to get ventilation, and they kept coming in, and so we had to shoot them [with BB guns]. It got rid of the whole family of them.” He estimated upwards of 20 pigeons were living in the building pre-renovation, and no more have roosted since then.

The finishing touches are now being put on the building in the form of a loft for Murtha. He estimated it would be finished in October and November, and looked forward to being close to his work. “I’m the kind of person that if I think of something on the weekend or in the middle of the night, it’ll bother me until I get back to the office and get it taken care of. So I would rather there just be a door that I walk through and at least write it down.”

In the meantime, the firm is at work, occasionally giving tours to curious visitors. Murtha will also be renting space in the T Square building. “We’ve had lots of interest. A lot of people have contacted me just out of the blue,” he said. “Most people are asking for offices.” He also has had several inquiries from law firms and retail businesses. “I really don’t want to rush that. I need to recover financially from what I’ve already invested in the building,” he said.

Another major concern is that the building doesn’t yet have the necessary sprinkler system in its basement. “We’re not using the whole place. We have a little deal with the city.” To prevent fires, a sprinkler system must be installed eventually. The city, however, has given Murtha two years to install it, providing he doesn’t rent the space to anyone. While he would change his mind for the right renter, he’s looking to wait.

“The caveat is that west building,” Murtha said. “It’s pretty easy to wall it off and sell that part of the building outright.” Formerly home to Two Tymers, the building is less than 5,000 square feet and wouldn’t trigger the sprinkler requirement. It’s where Murtha’s team began their renovations, testing the products and techniques that they would use on the rest of the building. “I’ve actually got the price up a little high, just because I want the right person to buy it, and I don’t want it to go back to what it was before.” So far, there haven’t been any bidders.

Stateline 7’s next major project will be renovating the County Annex Building, a project with many similarities to the T Square building; it too is a semi-historical building with similar square footage. It will be gutted and renovated by Murtha and his team. Ultimately, the building will be transformed into loft units, the first project on such a scale in Casper. “I’m hoping with this one that we set the example that you don’t have to tear these down,” Murtha said. “You can actually renovate them for as much, or even less, money, and you can’t build this kind of character.”

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