Theresa Cox, executive director of the nonprofit A Carousel for Missoula Foundation, explains where a new addition will be built starting this fall. The building will expand 20 feet to make room for a museum, workshop, office and storage loft.

Big improvements are coming to Missoula's iconic downtown carousel.

A Carousel for Missoula has reached its fundraising goal for a 640-square-foot addition and upgrade to its building at Caras Park, thanks to two grants totaling $175,000.

Construction is set to begin this fall on the addition, which will extend the building 20 feet to the east to make room for a new museum that tells the story of the carousel's creation and the adjacent Dragon Hollow playground.

The addition will also house a workshop for volunteers, an office and a storage loft.

Theresa Cox, executive director of the nonprofit A Carousel for Missoula Foundation, said she recently learned the organization had been awarded a $100,000 Tourism Infrastructure Improvement grant from the state of Montana and a $75,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which was created in 1975 by an Oregon businessman, Jack Murdock.

“I was very hopeful that I would get them,” Cox said. “The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust sends representatives to visit every applicant, and she told me ‘I’ll go to bat for you, but you don’t fit into any of our boxes.’ I was very pleased to get that one. And there is a lot of competition for the (tourism) grants, so I was very pleased that the state decided we were very worthy.”

The total project cost is $309,000. Cox said there were a lot of personal donations.

The current office at the carousel will be turned into a room for parties, classes and meetings, and the creation of a new workshop will allow the gift shop to nearly double in size.

“Everything we are doing will enhance our ability to serve the public,” Cox said. “The museum will allow all visitors to learn the wonderful story of volunteerism and community spirit that made the Carousel and Dragon Hollow possible. The workshop will give current volunteers a better space to work, and help us recruit the new volunteers so crucial to our continued sustainability. The new, enclosed party/class/meeting room and the larger gift shop will help generate additional income, and extra storage is a bonus.”

Jay Kirby, who designed the carousel building, has designed the addition to resemble a pony barn, in keeping with the purpose of the building and the original design.

John Thompson, a longtime carousel volunteer and local artist, will carve a limestone panel to decorate the exterior.

Other improvements include new roofing, repair of outdoor decorative elements and new paint throughout the building. The design of the museum hasn’t been set in stone yet.

“We wanted to make sure we got the funding before we started dreaming too big,” Cox explained.

Missoula's carousel provides nearly 204,000 rides every year, Cox said, and volunteers help the city maintain the Dragon Hollow playground.

“We are very pleased,” she said. “We hope to start in October and be done by March of next year.”

For more information, visit carouselformissoula.com.

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