As Kalispell continues to evolve as the economic hub of Northwest Montana, CTA Architects Engineers is at the forefront of designing its future

STORY BY DILLON TABISH
Architects play a unique role in every city. By planning, designing and constructing buildings and other structures that blend into the community and its landscape, they can shape a collective identity.

For more than 75 years, CTA Architects Engineers has helped form the character of cities across the West.

The award-winning firm operates offices in Kalispell, Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Livingston and Helena and employs more than 150 people in the state. There are also offices in Texas, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.

Tucked in an office overlooking Main Street in downtown Kalispell, the local staff of roughly a dozen architects and engineers has molded several prominent buildings across this valley, from commercial spaces to residences and school and government projects.

Whitefish CTA

An interior of a home in Whitefish that CTA designed. The firm designs and develops a variety of projects, including residential. Photo by Audrey Hall

Glacier High School. Sportsman & Ski Haus. Tamarack Brewing Company. The company’s growing portfolio features many of the most distinct local real estate landmarks, each embodying the indelible style and common themes that have come to signify CTA’s philosophy.

“I’m constantly trying to find ways to get back to simplicity and elegance and honesty,” said David Koel, CTA’s associate principal in Kalispell. “I try to use those as ways to drive design and provide solutions.”

Over the next year, the list will include the expanded West Valley School, which is receiving a state-of-the-art upgrade and addition, and the expansion of the Flathead County campus, which is gaining a new two-story building and transformation of the historic jail.

Both projects reflect CTA’s commitment to reinvesting in vital aspects of the community.

“We continue to have great clients and great projects. We’re very happy to be so fortunate and continuing to be the big design firm in the valley,” said David Mitchell, CTA’s principal and office manager in Kalispell.

One of the firm’s most notable projects is the Flathead County Courthouse, which CTA transformed into a proud landmark in the heart of the city two years ago.

The historic Flathead County Courthouse, which CTA designed.

The historic Flathead County Courthouse, which CTA designed. Photo by Lido Vizzutti

The firm is now working on the next phase of development at the county’s campus in downtown, among other projects in the core area that are materializing.

Construction will begin this spring on a large south campus building that could house the Agency on Aging, the county’s maintenance department and other health department services, such as a dental clinic. The new two-story building is estimated to cost $6 million and would resemble the adjacent Earl Bennett Building on First Avenue West. Through the design phase, CTA has envisioned a sky bridge connecting the adjacent sites.

Also, the firm is working on the restoration and renovation of the historic jail, which was built in 1902 and sits on an island in the center of U.S. Highway 93 near the courthouse.

“They’re very creative in the work they do. We like their designs. We like the way they use the limited spaces we have to fit our needs,” said Flathead County Administrator Mike Pence. “The courthouse is the prime example in my experience. They took this building and really made it something special.”

The latest campus projects mark the ongoing revitalization efforts in Kalispell’s downtown, which is experiencing a “renaissance,” according to Koel.

CTA partnered with the city of Kalispell on a visionary project that continues to gather steam: the Kalispell Core Area Revitalization Plan. The plan, which was co-developed and adopted by the city two years ago, envisions a new identity for the downtown area, a historic place that could become a revitalized mixed-use center.

Kalispell core

A rendering developed by CTA of a redesigned and redeveloped core area in Kalispell. The firm is working with the city to envision a new identity for the downtown area, blending the historic values with a revitalized mixed-use center.

The plan calls for streets adorned with more trees and wider sidewalks and a dense and cohesive grid of retail, residential and entertainment sites replacing the current “disorganized development” and “chaos,” as Koel has described it. The railroad tracks that slice through downtown would be gone, and in their place an expansive pedestrian pathway that could wind through town, connecting Woodland Park, downtown, the mall, neighborhoods and retail destinations.

“We’re very passionate about downtown,” said Mitchell.

The ambitious project missed out on a federal grant last fall, but the city continues to forge ahead, seeking ways to launch the plan into action.

“I believe it will happen faster than I originally thought,” Koel said. “There’s so much positive energy right now. There really isn’t anybody saying this is a bad idea. It will transform our city.”