Montana Historical Society again fails to get money for new building

2013-04-25T21:30:00Z Montana Historical Society again fails to get money for new building

HELENA – The Montana Historical Society came up empty again in its attempt to obtain money from the Legislature to proceed with plans to build its new Montana Heritage Center.

Although the 2013 Legislature voted to spend nearly $55 million for new and renovated university system buildings, the Montana Historical Society wound up being left off the final list in its request for $23 million.

Montana State University also was turned down in its request for $20 million to turn Romney Gym into a student academic center in Bozeman.

Two years ago, the Historical Society project was on a list of nearly $100 million worth of building projects that were to be funded by issuing bonds. That required a two-thirds majority vote and ultimately died when it failed to obtain the super-majority in the final House vote so nothing passed.

“We appreciate being considered this year,” Historical Society Director Bruce Whittenberg said Thursday. “I know the governor supports this idea, and we intend to tell the story of the Historical Society and are hopeful we’ll have a better result next session.”

In 2015, the Historical Society will celebrate its 150th anniversary. It was created in 1865, one year after Montana became a territory.

“That would be a wonderful time to pass the legislation to get this project going,” Whittenberg said.

Gov. Steve Bullock said he was disappointed that money for the Historical Society building and Romney Hall weren’t included in the list of projects that were funded.

“It just makes sense for Montana,” he said. “It’s real unfortunate we didn’t get that done.”

Bullock had proposed the original bonding bill for university buildings and the Historical Society, calling it the JOBS bill for Jobs and Opportunities by Building Schools. He said it not only would provide more than 2,000 construction jobs but would be used to train the workers of future.


Rep, Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, who has sponsored the bonding bills the past two sessions, was disappointed the Historical Society again wasn’t funded.

“If I’m back, I’ll be working on this project and hoping the third time will be the charm,” he said.

Hollenbaugh said he has had some difficulty explaining to his colleagues that the Montana Historical Society is not a local museum, but a statewide one and an important one.

“We’re going to have to work on the educational component,” he said. “It’s a state agency, and they should be funded as a state agency and not have to have bake sales to complete the project.”

The funding for the Historical Society building was originally into House Bill 14, the bonding bill, but backers faced trouble obtaining the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. As a result, the projects were stuffed into HB5, which would pay for building projects with cash.

In the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, removed the costliest projects from HB5, including the $23 million for the Historical Society. On the floor, he later successfully restored two of the major ones $29 million for Missoula College and $10 million for Montana State University-Billings, but not the Historical Society building.

An attempt on the Senate floor failed 28-22 to put back the Historical Society building back in HB5.

“The bottom line, it seems like a Helena project so the votes aren’t there,” Lewis said. “I had to go with the buildings that could get the votes.”

Lewis said the best chance for the Historical Society project was in the bonding bill, but it couldn’t muster the needed two-thirds votes in the House.

“With cash, there was just room for two of the four (major) buildings,” he said.

Lewis said he believes Historical Society officials need to go back and reconsider the idea of building the new facility.

“There are dozens of museums around the state,” he said. “Is there a way to take traveling exhibits and displays around the state?”

Legislators might be more supportive of spending money to buy vehicles for the Historical Society to move its displays around the state to share with local museums than paying for a new building in Helena, he said.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or by email at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian ( may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Search our events calendar