Montana Public Radio

State Will Remodel, Expand Historical Society Building

Dec 12, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state has decided to remodel the current Montana Historical Society building and add a connected building to create the new Montana Heritage Center.

Keeping the history museum across the street from the Capitol in Helena will cost less, offer more parking and make it easier for visitors to also tour the Capitol building, Department of Administration Director John Lewis said Thursday.

Advocates of a larger museum have long argued the state didn't have enough room to display all of its artifacts.

Lewis thanked the project committee and members of the public who commented on the proposed locations.

"Herd Bull," a bronze bison skull sculpture by artist Benji Daniels on display in front of the Montana Historical Society in Helena, MT.
Credit Eric Whitney / Montana Public Radio

“There were many considerations, but the most responsible use of taxpayer dollars provided by the 2019 Legislature was to take advantage of existing state resources by renovation of the current building and connecting it to a new facility on the Capitol Campus,” Lewis said in a statement.

Ground work will begin this spring, even as the building design phase continues, spokeswoman Amber Conger said.

The 2019 Legislature passed an increased lodging tax to help pay for the project.

Four other potential sites were considered, including the site of the former Capital Hill Mall, which was torn down earlier this year.

The Legislature had previously designated that the facility be built at its current site while the 2019 Legislature passed a bill that required the state to consider the mall site. Supporters argued the mall site was more visible and easier to get to because it sits between the main routes into and out of the east side of Helena and just blocks from the Capitol.

Building a new building at the mall site would have cost $30-$42 million more than the Capitol site, which also has room for future expansion, Lewis said.

The project has a target budget of about $53 million, according to analysis by architects who evaluated the five sites.