MISSOULA – The University of Montana is paving a new future and the way forward includes the turning of some old stones. One-hundred-year-old bricks, to be exact.
This summer, the historic brick walkways of UM’s Oval got a facelift, thanks to a large-scale reconstruction project in the heart of campus. What used to be clunky and timeworn bricks that made riding bikes, rushing to class or wheelchair accessibility difficult, is now stamped, smooth concrete ꟷ leaving behind generations of stubbed toes and careful balancing on the iconic and beloved paths.
“The problem was so many of them had become damaged from years of the freeze-thaw cycle,” said Kevin Krebsbach, director of UM Facility Services. “It caused most of them to settle and create hazards.”
Funds for the $250,000 infrastructure investment, awarded to Knife River of Missoula, were made available from a University bond sale last year that generated $63 million ear-marked for investments in student-serving infrastructure and capital improvements. The new concrete is textured to resemble bricks, reflecting UM’s classical aesthetic and original design.
The walkways didn’t exist at UM until 1969, when the bricks – originally laid in downtown Missoula streets between 1912 and 1914 – were removed and installed on campus as crossways that run east-west and north-south on the Oval. The first 80 years of campus lacked walkways across the Oval, and it was considered taboo to walk across the campus greens. University archives include records of a paddling punishment for those caught breaking the rules and a silent sentinel who blew a whistle when the greens were trespassed.
Krebsbach said most of the original brick workmanship was on-par for the times, despite some improper installation and flawed placement of the brick’s concrete borders that had worsened over time. The bricks came from former Denny-Renton Clay & Coal Company in Renton, Washington – once the largest producers of brick pavers in the world.
Reflecting UM’s commitment to sustainability and bypassing the landfill as much as possible, Facilities Services wanted to recycle as many of the original bricks as possible that were still in usable condition. Krebsbach said about 80% of the original bricks, estimated to be between 60,000 to 70,000, are still usable and are currently sitting on pallets for future projects, or for a potential sale to the public – following many inquiries from alumni and the public about the project.
The walkway completion is part of an ongoing series of the Oval’s restoration, Krebsbach said, and has been dependent upon when funds have become available, thanks in large part to alumni, friends and partners of UM. Past improvements include installing an automated irrigation system. Lampposts on the inner and outer Oval, also from the 1960s and still in operation, are eventually slated to be replaced with sustainable LED lights. A sale of tree sponsorships called the Oval Tree Project, organized by the UM Alumni Association, provided funds to replace trees on the Oval, which is also home to the Montana State Arboretum.
“What’s neat to me about the whole project is the restoring of the Oval’s grandeur and making something better that was already there,” Krebsbach said.
In 1893, the Montana State Legislature authorized the creation of the University of Montana and in 1895 it opened its doors, though it wasn’t until 1899 until the University moved to its current location. A dedicated green space and designated historic district within the City of Missoula, the 220 acres of the UM mountain campus are only surpassed in area by the Fort Missoula Historic District.
Contact: Kevin Krebsbach, UM director of Facility Services, 406-243-2787.