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Ronan arch restored to skyline

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RONAN – It’s back. After an absence of about eight months, the iconic Ronan arch has reappeared in the skyline over Main Street.

Constructed as a senior class project by the Ronan High School graduating class of 2002, the legendary landmark has served for nearly two decades as a welcoming gateway leading into downtown Ronan. Unfortunately, exposure to Montana’s weather caused public safety concerns due to the untimely deterioration of the arch’s large timbers.

With a little nudge from the Montana Highway Department, the Ronan arch was deemed unsafe and crews from the City of Ronan, Access Montana, Cross Diamond Boom Service, Jennison Tree Service, Mission Valley Power and Western Building Center dismantled the original wooden structure in early March of this year and hauled the severely rotten logs away.

On Monday, Nov. 4, the crews from earlier this spring returned with fresh replacement logs for the reconstruction portion of the Restore the Ronan Arch project. They brought an armada of bucket trucks and a large boom crane.

Using new logs from Dupuis Lumber that were peeled and prepped by students from Ronan High School, workers took the better part of the morning hoisting and strapping three new sections of replacement timbers. 

The mammoth log-structure was suspended 40-feet in the air. The tricky part of the project was ensuring that the main cross-log and two connecting arch legs properly aligned with the four steel and river rock support columns. Once alignment was obtained, the new and improved arch was securely bolted. The main structure is solidly in place, but there are still a few remaining tasks left to complete, according to Jay Preston of Access Montana. 

“The four steel support posts need to be clad with wood,” Preston said. “Also, gussets need to be installed on the remaining joints, further securing the joints between the A-frame components and the steel-base post.”

The copper roofing needs to be completed covering the spaces that were left open. “We wanted as much of the roof installed with gaps so the components could be lifted in place without damaging the roofing,” Preston said.

The steel roofing screws need to be replaced. Preston explained: “The steel fasteners now holding the copper in place will, over time, create an electrolysis reaction with the copper sheeting, ultimately making the roof leaky and not well fastened. The specialty screws will not react with the copper sheeting, making the roof secure for the foreseeable future.”

Improvements to the longest free-standing public arch in the state not only included the use of copper roofing, intended to shed water and keep the logs drier and rot free longer, but also upgrades in preservative treatment of the arch timbers.

“This new arch has a better preservative treatment than the original one,” said Preston. “The first one, we treated it ourselves like you would treat your patio deck.”

Ronan High School students will spend the next few months getting the new Ronan Arch signage ready for installation by the end of this school year when the City of Ronan and the Ronan Arch Committee has tentative plans to hold a dedication ceremony for the new arch and sign. 

Made up of community members, business members, city government officials and Ronan High School students and staff, the Restore the Ronan Arch Committee raised more than $50,000 for the Ronan Arch project. Funding for the project included fundraising events, private donations and grants from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Montana Department of Commerce Tourism, MEDA Mini-grant and Lower Flathead Valley Community Foundation.

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