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Teachers Say New Historical Center Important for MT Students

The Montana Legislature is considering an infrastructure bill that could provide money to renovate the Montana Historical Society. (Roger W/Flickr)
The Montana Legislature is considering an infrastructure bill that could provide money to renovate the Montana Historical Society. (Roger W/Flickr)
February 10, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - Teachers and other Montanans want the Legislature to update the state's historic center in Helena because of its importance to students.

House Bill 14 is an infrastructure proposal that would allot $292 million to fix roads, bridges and some state buildings. It includes more than $27 million in bonding authority to renovate the Montana Historical Society building and expand its collection into the Montana Heritage Center.

Kelly Elder, a sixth-grade social studies teacher and member of MEA-MFT, the state's largest union, said the museum provides a great experience but doesn't have enough space for all of its displays.

"We love our field trips there," he said, "but I have over 130 sixth graders a day, and I want all of them to have the experience of being in the research center, of looking at historic artifacts, of looking at journals of people up on steamships along the Missouri River, for example."

Elder recently was selected as Montana Teacher of the Year.

The 2005 Legislature approved $7.5 million in bonding authority for the expanded historical society and, to date, private donors and organizations have kicked in $2.5 million.

Rowena Harrington, museum registrar and also a union member, said much more space is needed to hold a century and a half of collections.

"We are right now at critical mass," she said. "I mean, we're beyond critical mass. We are, in places, stacked up to the ceiling, and we just need more room."

On Thursday, HB 14, known as the Jobs in Montana Act, advanced through a House subcommittee. It needs the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate to pass, because some of the projects create state debt. The bill's text is online at laws.leg.mt.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT