LANDER - The historic Noble Hotel is in for a $4 million-plus facelift, thanks to the alumni of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Built here in 1917 as a luxury hotel for East Coast tourists bound for Yellowstone National Park, the Noble Hotel has been owned by NOLS since 1973, and was converted into dorm rooms, offices and classroom space for students and staff.

The forces of time and wear and tear have dimmed the luster of the grand old lady of Lander - enough to launch a capital drive in recent years with the goal of restoring the building's Old West charm and upgrade facilities for NOLS staff and students.

"The big unknown over the cost of the restoration," said Development Director Pip Coe, "is what Katrina will do to the cost of building supplies." The rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast from hurricane winds and floods is already affecting the availability and the cost of building supplies throughout the country, according to reports by The Associated Press.

That restoration drive began Thursday morning with a groundbreaking ceremony (lowering a sign off the building with a complex climbing rope rig) and sending in a specialized crew to tear out asbestos tiles.

"The Noble is a beautiful historic feature of Main Street and downtown Lander," Mayor Mick Wolfe said. "NOLS' dedication to its upkeep shows their commitment to our community."

The capstone of the restoration work will be the grand lobby of the old hotel, and the reinstallation of century-old stained glass panels in the skylight above the lobby.

In addition to the lobby restoration, most of the remaining work will be to update heating and cooling, the electrical system, cables for computer systems and health and safety equipment, such as full-building sprinkler system.

Along with new paint and carpeting throughout, there will be an upgraded commercial kitchen, a new laundry, a new elevator, library, computer room, a retail store for students and a room focused on NOLS and Noble Hotel history and memorabilia.

"We now have 46 residence rooms, and after the renovation, that'll increase by two," said John Stoddard, project manager and a former NOLS instructor.

The Noble Hotel is located in downtown Lander one block south of the NOLS International Headquarters and three blocks east of NOLS Rocky Mountain - home base for 40 percent of the school's courses.

"The location of the hotel and its history with the school are essentially irreplaceable," NOLS Marking Director Bruce Palmer said. That's why NOLS decided to update and improve the Noble Hotel, rather than seek a new building site outside the city.

Palmer estimated that close to 40,000 NOLS students and instructors have bunked at the Noble Hotel, their home base from which they launched hundreds of expeditions into the nearby Wind River Mountains.

Numerous NOLS staff and between-season instructors have called the Noble Hotel home.

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The first phase of the renovation project will run until May 26, 2006.

During that time, the focus will be on remodeling residential rooms, the kitchen and the dining room, as well as most of the heating and cooling work. Students will occupy the hotel as usual from the end of May on.

The second phase will run to late December 2006, completing the remaining electrical, plumbing and mechanical work.

Dave Glenn, director of the Rocky Mountain branch of NOLS, noted that there may be traffic disruption behind the Noble, as well as congested parking on surrounding streets.

Design work for the restoration of the Noble Hotel was by Centerbrook Architects in Connecticut - the same firm that designed the nearby NOLS headquarters.

NOLS is celebrating its 40th anniversary since mountaineer Paul Petzoldt launched the school off the back of a big ranch truck, taking young people off into the Wind River country. School trustees and staff are meeting today for a "State of the School" report, then convene tonight for a banquet and keynote address from Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal.

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