Montana Heritage Center Celebrates Construction Milestone | Local

Dennis Washington said he never dreamed of being part of Montana history, “but I am and I love it.”

The Montana billionaire was among nearly 200 people gathered Tuesday at an $81 million Montana Heritage Center handover ceremony, in which a foundation led by Washington and his wife, Phyllis, donated $25 million. of dollars when the project ran into funding difficulties due to rising costs for labor, construction material and supply shortages.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte called Washington “a real man of the hour.”






Dennis Washington and his wife Phyllis are the last to sign the beams during Tuesday’s closing ceremony for the Montana Heritage Center.


Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com


The Montana Historical Society ceremony at the construction site of 225 N. Roberts St. included Historical Society Director Molly Kruckenberg, Gianforte and First Lady Susan, entrepreneur Erik Sletten, the Washingtons, Mayor Helena Wilmot Collins and Smoky Rides at the doorstep of the Blackfeet Nation.

The new 66,000-square-foot addition, slated to open in 2024 or early 2025, will have expanded galleries, so visitors can view more art and artifacts held in trust by the Montana Historical Society. It will also include meeting rooms for up to 300 people and a public café.

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This drawing of an architectural firm Cushing Terrell shows the new Montana Heritage Center.


Cushing Terrell


As part of the project, the current 70-year-old building of the historical society will also be renovated with new classrooms and expanded galleries and research center.

Rides at the Door provided an opening prayer and asked for holy spirits and Creator God to bless and protect all who attended and watch over their families.

Kruckenberg said the heritage center will be more than a building that houses the Big Sky State’s grand history.

“It will be a community space that invites conversation between generations. It will be a place that inspires visitors to explore our past and learn from it,” she said. “He will share the stories of all Montananese, to give meaning to today and vision for tomorrow.”

Gianforte said the 66,000 square foot center will tell the story of Montana, “the good, the bad, the triumphs, the challenges.”







Montana Historical Society

Governor Greg Gianforte speaks during the closing ceremony for the Montana Historical Society’s new building in Helena.


Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com


“As we all know, Montana’s story is far from over,” he said, adding that there will be “more trailblazers, more triumphs, more successes.”

He offered words of encouragement to Sletten Construction.

“As you frame the walls, hang the windows, and lay the floors, know how important the work you do here is in preserving Montana’s history,” he said. “You are doing a great job and the State of Montana appreciates it.”

Washington spoke of the state approaching him to make a contribution as the cost of the heritage center rose. He said the executive director of his foundation approached him about making a contribution to the heritage center.







Montana Historical Society

Dennis Washington speaks during the closing ceremony for the new Montana Heritage Center in Helena.


Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com


“I never really thought I would be involved in Montana history,” he said, telling Kruckenberg that she wasn’t asking enough and wanted to give him double her. request. He said the more he looked into the project, the more he wanted to be involved.

The Washington foundation ended up donating $25 million.

Dennis Washington also encouraged others to donate.

“If you don’t give, you don’t get the joy of giving,” he said. “And believe me, you’re the one who’s been cheated in the end.”







Montana Historical Society

Construction workers shake hands after installing the final beam during Tuesday’s closing ceremony at the Montana Heritage Center.


Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com


Sletten talked about the importance of a side project. He said there are three stages for projects, including groundbreaking at the beginning and ribbon cutting at the end.

He said the finishing ceremony, which is his favorite ceremony in the life of a project, celebrates builders and craftsmen. Sletten said it’s a time to recharge, rest, and reflect on how far a project has come.

Completion ceremonies celebrate a milestone in a construction project. The steel beams, put into place at the end of the ceremony, signify that the high point of the new Montana Heritage Center has been built.

Hundreds of students from 15 Montana schools have put their signatures on the beam over the past two weeks, museum officials said.

Rides at the Door said he signed the beam as it relates to Browning and painted a black stripe and a red stripe of holy paint. The painting captures the beam as the enemy and now “we” control it, he said, adding that the beam will have this blessing on it.

The cost of the heritage center has risen 53% from its original price of $53 million to $81 million, due to soaring prices for labour, building materials and shortages .







Montana Historical Society

From left at Tuesday’s Heritage Center celebration are Governor Greg Gianforte and First Lady Susan, Montana Historical Society Director Molly Kruckenberg and Phyllis and Dennis Washington.


Gary Marshall, BMGphotos.com


Ground was broken on the center in September 2020, after a nearly 15-year effort to build a new facility. Officials said the current museum was outdated and didn’t have room to display the state’s extensive collections. It is designed by Cushing Terrell Architects and is expected to attract 78,000 more visitors per year and create $7.5 million more in annual tourism spending.

On the last day of the 2019 session, Rep. Julie Dooling, R-Helena, introduced a motion to blow up the Heritage Center bill introduced by fellow Republican Helena, Senator Terry Gauthier, to review.

Funding for the project includes $41 million from the state lodging tax, $7.5 million in general bonds and $900,000 in energy conservation grants.

Among those present on Tuesday was Bruce Whittenberg, the former director of the historical society who had worked on the expansion for years.

“It’s a dream come true for a lot of people,” he said. “But we have a long way to go.”

Hal Stearns, chairman of the board of the Montana Historical Society, said it was a “fabulous” day.

He said the new center would be a benefit to visiting school children and a magnet for Montana.

“It will be a testament to Montana’s incredible history.”

Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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