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Fort Peck Theatre To Receive $500,000 Grant

Montana historical sites, societies and museums, like the “Queen of the Prairie” Fort Peck Theatre, will see more than $10 million in grant funding for more than 40 preservation projects around the state.

The Montana Department of Commerce announced the grant awards Thursday, June 29, that are going to be sent to more than 30 communities, according to a department press release.

“It is important for us to showcase our state’s rich history, as well as the culture and heritage that created Montana as we know it today,” said director of the Montana Department of Commerce Scott Osterman in the release.

Funds can be used towards infrastructure and renovation projects, or on improvements to security, climate control or fire protection.

The Fort Peck Theatre was awarded $500,000, the maximum grant award for projects. Box Office Manager Sandy Carpenter said the goal for the funds was to put in the necessary infrastructure to make it a more yearround facility, with the theater originally built in 1934.

“We’re going to be coming up on 100 years here, and we’re still hanging out here on the prairie,” Carpenter told the Daily Montanan on Thursday.

“They call it the ‘Queen of the Prairie,’” Carpenter said. “You go over a hill, it’s just there, and you’re like ‘What in the world?’” Carpenter said they’re finishing this week with a production of Murder on the Orient Express and next they’ll be showing Matilda the Musical.

“Havre Beneath the Streets” is a tour that shows a reconstruction of businesses that had to move underground after a fire burned Havre down more than 100 years ago, according to the tour’s website.

Office manager for the tour Christy Owens said they’ll be using their funds, $359,672, to repair a vaulted sidewalk that was previously used as an entrance to the tour, but had to be evacuated in 2017 due to deterioration. Owens said tours will still be operational as they complete construction, which they hope will start in late summer or early fall.

The Moss Mansion Museum in Billings also received $500,000, which Director Aly Turner said is going towards replacing the piping that has heated the building since 1903. Turner said replacing the pipes themselves won’t be the most expensive part, but the restoration work that has to be done to ensure the original walls are preserved.

She said the heating works great now, but with the pipes being so old, the museum is operating on “borrowed time.”

“If any of those pipes were to break, they could easily destroy major portions of the house,” she said.

Turner said although the museum is partially owned by the city and the state, it doesn’t receive funding from either.

“If we didn’t have this grant, it would take us years and years and years to fundraise this amount of money,” she said.

For historic sites to have been eligible for funding, they must have been listed on a national, state or local historic registry, contributed to a historic district or a structure more than 50 years old that has documented significance to the history of the state or region, according to the department website.

The Montana Historic Preservation Grant program was created during the 2019 legislative session through Senate Bill 338, sponsored by then-state Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena.

The Paradise Center, a former public schoolhouse converted into an arts and visitor center, in 2021 was awarded $123,220 of the same grant funding to install an interior elevator and renovate a restroom to be ADA compliant, the release said.

“MHPG funding helped us make our historic building fully accessible to individuals with mobility constraints, while protecting its historic nature through the discrete installation of two passenger lifts and the renovation of old restrooms to be ADA compliant,” said Karen Thorson, Paradise Center Secretary of the Board, in the release.

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