New Montana Heritage Center Design Unveiled, Without Tunnel

The new plan includes the removal of Sixth Avenue

By Associated Press

HELENA — The Montana Historical Society has unveiled an updated design plan for a more than $32 million addition and renovation that no longer calls for an underground tunnel, officials said.

The original plan was to build a tunnel connecting the society’s existing building to the new Montana Heritage Center scheduled to be built directly across Sixth Avenue, Independent Record reported.

The new plan includes the removal of Sixth Avenue so the buildings can be joined together above ground, society officials announced Tuesday.

“The challenge has been trying to look at the whole project and determine how best to serve the historical society while keeping in mind the needs of the neighborhood,” Montana Department of Architecture and Engineering Administrator Russ Katherman said.

The underground tunnel was costly and posed a negative impact to the overall visitor experience, he said.

There will be minimal impact on traffic after closing off the one-block stretch of Sixth Avenue, said Zack Graham, a civil engineer with Cushing Terrell, a company hired to create the design plan. Any traffic increases would eventually be alleviated after the city reopens a nearby road currently under construction, he said.

The new design incorporates a Capitol-facing entry plaza, an indoor cafeteria, an outdoor patio, an event center and a large gallery space, officials said. Requests for proposals on the project are due to the state on April 30.

“This is the people’s museum. This is their heritage on display,” Katherman said, adding that his team is still collecting public comment. “We want to hear what people think. It’s the only way we can confirm we’re on the right track.”

Public comment for the design phase is due by May 5, he said, adding that the department hopes to have a general contractor selected by June 1.

Some early construction stages could be completed by the end of the year, including the general site preparations, removal of houses on the property and the relocation of maintenance facilities, Katherman said.

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