Fairgrounds renovations to coordinate with Exploration Center groundbreaking

The Missoula Insectarium will occupy a portion of the Rocky Mountain Exploration Center, which will break ground this May. (Image courtesy of A&E)

Renovations planned for a building at the Missoula County Fairgrounds will continue Phase 1 improvements to the property and set the stage for a summer groundbreaking of the Rocky Mountain Exploration Center.

It will also mark the beginning of the removal of the chain link fence surrounding the property, which has long been discussed among the property’s most needed improvements.

To move the project forward, Missoula County last week approved an $888,000 contract with Jackson Construction to begin renovations on the Home Arts Building.

The windowless structure sits at the fairgrounds’ entrance off South Avenue and formerly served as the county’s ballot center on election night.

“The most exciting thing about the renovations of this building is that we’re adding storefront windows and doors so that we’ll have use of the carnival grounds,” said fairgrounds director Emily Brock. “We’re going to try and get this done before the fair. It’s ambitious, but we’re going to go for it.”

The contract, which covers standard plumbing and roofing improvements as well, also includes site improvements around the facility.

Brock said the work will connect the building with the new Historic Plaza at the center of the fairgrounds, along with lighting and landscaping improvements.

“The path between the building and the Historic Plaza is included and will include lighting and concrete,” Brock said. “This is the first removal of the chain link fence on the fairgrounds.”

Renovations to the structure will be paid for using revenue from the special district created by the county several years ago. Other work has taken place as part of the property’s Phase 1 upgrades, including historic renovations and site improvements.

In February, Missoula County also approved an agreement with Elkhorn Commissioning Group to help streamline the construction of the Rocky Mountain Exploration Center. Groundbreaking is set for May 14.

“One of the things about this (Home Arts) project is that it dovetails closely with the Rocky Mountain Exploration Center,” Brock said. “So much of the work really has to be coordinated at the same time with the utilities and underground infrastructure.”

Plans for the new facility were announced last April in partnership with the Missoula Insectarium and the Missoula County Extension and Weed District.

As proposed, the 29,000-square-foot building will house the Weed District and local 4-H, which together will occupy around two-thirds of the facility. The Missoula Insectarium will fill the remaining space, offering a classroom, a tropical butterfly house and a demonstration garden on wildflower pollinators.