Interview & Tour: ITMs, improved engagement highlight new Altana FCU branch

By: Travis Estvold
12 July 2018

CTA’s relationship with Altana Federal Union spans 10 projects and nearly 20 years (extending back to a time when Altana was still known as Laurel FCU). Team members at both companies know each other well. It’s as much a friendship as it is a professional partnership.

It should not be a surprise, then, that even in the middle of the newest branch’s construction, when Altana President/CEO Rhonda Diefenderfer asked if planned teller pods could be replaced with interactive teller machines (ITMs), nobody batted an eye.

“I told her, ‘Of course we can!'” CTA project manager and longtime Altana collaborator Shannon Christensen remembered. A high level of trust allows for flexibility, and CTA’s financial design team happened to be prepped and ready for the occasion. They’d previously conducted thorough research on ITM technology and were itching to apply it.

Though implemented late, the upgrade request was no surprise. According to CTA designer Mallory Johnson, “Altana has always been forward-thinking, wanting to progress financial offerings to serve members any way they can, and in the most efficient manner.”

Take a tour and learn more about Altana FCU’s new Billings Heights branch, courtesy of CTA’s Shannon Christensen and Mallory Johnson.

Beyond cutting-edge tech, the new branch’s primary goals included growing Altana’s brand recognition and exposure both overall and within the Heights area of Billings, as well as amplifying their customer experience. Here are some highlights of their newest location:


“When we were starting to design it, we wanted to tie in the recognizability of the brand that CTA helped Altana establish,” Johnson said. At the same time, “they’re really trying to keep things fresh for their members,” Christensen added.

Some of Altana’s existing facilities feature cherry wood, traditional finishes, and a blue accent color. Design of the new branch, which opened in September 2017 (with a grand opening event in November), aimed to remain firmly reminiscent of the Altana aesthetic but with bolder, more modern touches. The Heights branch includes new selections of wood, white quartz, a green accent, and contemporary fixtures – plus an abundance of daylight throughout.

Several Altana locations feature stonework on the exterior, with primarily lighter-colored finishes transitioning to darker elements near the roof. Also featured are large, deep eaves and overhangs. The new branch follows this same convention, though due to a quarry closure, some quick work was required to match new style rock to Altana’s existing locations.


The commercial zone of Billings’ Heights neighborhood is largely automobile-focused. In typical strip mall fashion, cars are generally parked between buildings and the road. To assert a greater presence on Main Street and to promote modern retail/commercial design that prioritizes – or at least equalizes – the pedestrian experience, the branch was sited closer to the road, with parking located to the side and rear of the building.

CTA landscape architect Stephanie Donovan worked with Altana to create an up-front presence on Main Street, inviting pedestrians and traffic to enter from Main Street. Additionally, the team designed the main entry vestibule to extend out, greet visitors entering the space, and escort them inside. “It really creates a nice welcoming environment and a grand entrance,” Christensen said.


Occupying 10,596 sq. ft., the new branch has plenty of office space for current staff, but is also highly flexible and large enough to accommodate future growth. Additionally, the lobby, now home to the interactive teller machines, is highly reconfigurable should additional needs arise or new technology become available in the future.

“The goal was to create a really fun, professional, and adaptive environment for both Altana staff and their members,” Johnson said.


An attached two-car garage, unusual for a traditional credit union, was added to the design to provide space for Altana team members to build and store floats for entry in community holiday parades (often occuring in cold months). Serendipitously, the garage also provided additional roof space to the west side of the building (opposite the road), allowing the integrated design team to reduce the visibility of mechanical systems to members as they walk in or utilize drive-up services.

CTA has worked with Altana to design and remodel their 32nd and Central headquarters and 24th Street West location, both in Billings, as well as their downtown Columbus, Laurel, and Red Lodge locations. CTA also provided structural consultation after a member ran into their building in Laurel, Montana back in June 2016.

“CTA and Altana share a lot of values,” Christensen noted. “We’re both involved in our local communities, and are always giving back. Like us, they’re also a Partner in Education with a local elementary school.”

“They’re a great client, they’re fun to collaborate with, they’re really decisive, and like to see their brand progress,” she concluded. “You can’t really ask for anything more than that!”

  • Write a comment