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Montana Historical Society

Montana Historical Society curator Amanda Streeter Trum pulls out a rack of Charles M. Russell paintings in the museum in December. The museum collection has outgrown its current space.

The Montana Department of Administration will launch a website and likely spend the next year and a half considering the future site of the state’s museum in Helena.

In the coming weeks, the department will create a website to provide information and offer a portal for public comment about selecting the location of the future Montana Heritage Center.

Agency spokeswoman Amber Conger told the State Administration and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday that there is not a specific deadline set to choose a site.

“It’s probably going to be at least 18 months before a final decision is made, just based on the steps that are required to get to that point,” Conger told lawmakers. She said the agency is committed to making the selection process as transparent as possible.

The department has also said it plans to convene working groups as it analyzes sites.

After lawmakers voted down museum funding for multiple sessions, the 2019 Montana Legislature passed a bill increasing lodging and use taxes to build the heritage center. The funding came in response to, dating back two decades, the fact that the current Montana Historical Society lacked the facilities to adequately display and store the state’s museum collection.

Lawmakers also amended a bill late in the session requiring the state to analyze the site of the former Capital Hill Mall as a potential location for the museum. Advocates for the mall site tout its location along two major streets and near the interstate for tourism and building space.

But in 2007, consultants and the state architect recommended remodeling the current MHS near the Capitol building along with a new building built across the street and connected by an underground tunnel. Lower cost, proximity to the Capitol for tourism, concerns over transportation of artifacts and fundraising based in part on that location have been cited as reasons for the renovation and expansion option.

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In 2019, advocates led by the Montana History Center, a group founded by former First Lady Betty Babcock, renewed the push for the mall site after the property was purchased and building demolished by Helena developer Dick Anderson. The ownership change alleviated prior concerns about split ownership of the building and property, the group said.

State officials with MHS have said they still prefer the remodel and new building option at the current site.

A law passed in 2015 names a new Montana Heritage Center after Babcock.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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