HELENA - Over 100 people gathered in Helena on Tuesday to celebrate the “topping out” of the Montana Heritage Center.
"In a topping out, we place the last structural beam that will be a part of the building project. It's really a milestone saying the first substantial part of our construction is complete," said Montana Historical Society Executive Director Molly Kruckenberg.
The final two beams were signed by hundreds of Montana students from 15 schools, and they were bolted in place after special guests like Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte marveled at the construction progress.
"What's behind us will one day be a place for all people to visit, learn, and share in Montana's history,” said Gianforte.
Erik Sletten, CEO of Sletten Construction, said the topping-out ceremony is to honor the hard work of the trade workers.
"What's missing much of the time during these milestones' celebrations are the craftspeople, the builders, the ones out here that are out here whether its rain, snow or shine, working 24/7," said Sletten.
The project was initially expected to cost more than $52 million, with estimates rising to $81 million for the 66,000-square-foot addition, plus the renovations and landscaping. Funding for the Montana Heritage Center was approved by the 2019 Legislature through a bed tax.
Dennis and Phyllis Washington, whose foundation donated $25 million for the project, spoke about their recent donation to help the project. "With the help of Burlington Northern, we will make this the best display in America," said Washington.
Kruckenberg says the progress gets her excited to see the final project.
"This has taken us quite a number of years to get to this point, and to see all the people celebrate with us today, all the folks who have signed the beam to be a part of this project, it is heartwarming," said Kruckenberg.
The two beams were bolted with Montana’s state flag and a tree as a tradition of a topping out ceremony.
Construction began on the Montana Heritage Center in September of 2020.
The facility will house an expanded 15,000-square-foot Homeland historical gallery, with artifacts dating from 14,000 years ago up to the present; a 6,150-square-foot event center with a capacity for more than 300 people; and a café offering beverages and deli items.