Trapper Creek Job Corps helps restore Hamilton's American Legion building

Trapper Creek Job Corps' Leif Shelmerdine of Choteau tamps down dirt in front the American Legion Post 47 building in preparation for pouring a new sidewalk. He was joined by crew members Elisah Sheakley of Missoula, Isaah Richard of Roundup, Luke Matias of Libby, Kevin Martin of Colorado Springs and Christopher Ornelas of Glendive.

Hamilton’s American Legion Post 47 building has seen better days.

Not long ago, the sidewalks were cracking and falling apart. The landscaping looked terrible. And its walls were in bad need of some new paint.

“It looked like a place that no one cared about,” said American Legion post 47 Commander Ruth Cook. “It was just awful.”

But that’s all about to change.

This week, a crew of Trapper Creek Job Corps masonry students tore out the old concrete and were busy at work Friday preparing the site for the new sidewalks they planned to pour next week. They also took care of the old landscaping, which will be replaced with rock and drought-resistant plants.

When the masonry crew finishes its work, another Trapper Creek crew of painters will follow to give the old building a new shine.

The plans even call for replacing the old flagpole with one that won’t rust and will never have to be painted.

Through it all, Cook said she’s received an outpouring of support from local businesses.

“The community support that we’ve received for this project has been amazing,” she said. “I’m flabbergasted. People have been telling that ‘thank God that someone is willing to do something with that eyesore.’

“It’s going to be wonderful to get it cleaned up and show everyone that someone does care about this building,” Cook said.

The building was constructed in 1937 as a funeral home. The American Legion is now its owner and leases half the building to Second Street Sushi.

Trapper Creek’s masonry instructor, Al Brown, said his students love helping out with community service projects like this one.

“We usually do anywhere from six to 15 projects a year,” he said. “It just depends on how large the projects are. I like to treat the trade almost like what you would find with any small independent contractor. It’s not the same as what you will learn from a book. Real life work can’t be taught in a classroom.”

The Trapper Creek masonry students recently poured the walls for the new Habitat for Humanity home in Darby. They plan to return to pour the floor and sidewalks.

“We’ve done a lot of the habitat projects in Ravalli County,” he said. “We’ve done the flatwork, sidewalks and pavers. It’s good experience for our students. I think without these community service projects, their training would be lacking. Besides that, they love doing it.”

Brown has 41 years of experience working with concrete. He’s been at Trapper Creek since 2015.

Every single one of the students who have graduated from his program has found a job in their trade.

“I don’t let them go if they don’t have a job,” he said. “I don’t want them to go and fall back into their old ways and lose everything they’ve learned.”

His last two graduates have found jobs in the Bitterroot Valley.

“I think this is the most exceptional group of students that I’ve ever had,” Brown said. “They all like to work hard and they get along with each other really well.”