Montana is about to get a new building, called the Heritage Center, on Capitol Hill in Helena. The new facility will house the Montana Historical Society (MTHS), thanks to the long-time efforts of MTHS employees and some kindred spirits in the legislature.
Under leadership of the previous director, Bruce Whittenberg, the MTHS lobbied the legislature to pass Senate Bill 338, The Montana Museums Act of 2020, which authorized the renovation and expansion of the building.
“Nothing great like this is ever accomplished by one person,” Whittenberg said. “Both Sen. Terry Gauthier (R- Helena) and Rep. Julie Dooling (R-Helena) were committed to building the understanding that would result in success. Their courage and persistence was remarkable.”
Present director Molly Kruckenberg is excited about the project, noting construction is ahead of schedule. She added that, although the transition may cause temporary discomfort for patrons and researchers, it will all be worth it in the end.
“We apologize for any hardships this creates, but know that when we reopen in 2025, our expanded and renovated facility will be worth the temporary disruption in services,” she said.
Those temporary disruptions will affect every aspect of the facility, from the galleries to the museum store. Kruckenberg reminds patrons that many items are available for viewing online, including more than 40,000 artifacts. In addition, nine exhibits are presently available online—more than one million pages of newspapers, 100,000 books, letters, lesson plans, photographs, and more.
Perhaps the biggest inconvenience will be to researchers, since the renovation requires the Library and Archives on the second floor to close for two years.
“As we’re moving, the MTHS staff (in addition to moving the library, archive, and artworks) are preparing for new exhibits that will be appearing when we reopen,” said Eve Byron, Public Information Officer at the MTHS. “They will be working on a homeland gallery exhibition, which will cover 13,000 years ago to present, and the CMR Russell gallery will triple in size.”
Eventually, most of the current staff will have to relocate as well.
“Our staff will remain in our offices as long as possible, but clearly the construction renovations will be impactful,” said Kruckenberg.
Fortunately, the museum store (just off the lobby of the Roberts Street entrance) will remain open until the MTHS can find a temporary location nearby. Other popular public programs have been relocated to the Lewis and Clark Library. Those programs have all been shifted to a 6:30 pm start time, to better accommodate the public.
When completed, the facility will be impressive, at 66,000 square feet, and it will better serve the public than the outdated and cramped original building.
The research center will relocate to the main floor, where the bookstore used to be. The expansive facility will also make room for larger exhibits and conference areas.
The project price tag is $84 million, $41 million of which was paid with the state’s lodging facility use tax, a $7 million bond from 2005, private donations, and grants. The MTHS itself has raised $38 million dollars for the project.
“The legislation that made this possible had broad support from dozens of citizens all over the state who wrote, called, or testified in support of the project,” said Whittenberg.
When completed in early 2025, the Montana Heritage Center will be a travel destination for Montanans from all over the state, as well as a must-see entry in the travel plans for tourists from all over the country. MSN