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Missoula County signs off on $12.2M contract for Exploration Center, butterfly house

Crews continue work on the foundation for the Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. (Missoula Current)

After years of planning and fundraising, the Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center moved closer to reality on Tuesday after Missoula County approved the project’s $12 million construction contract.

The contract with Jackson Contracting Group covers the building’s construction, including office space for the Missoula County Extension and Weed District, a rooftop greenhouse and a tropical butterfly house and insectarium.

“We’ve already pre-purchased the steel and we’re doing groundwork and foundation now,” said fairgrounds director Emily Brock. “But this is the bulk of the project. It’s for building the building.”

Plans for the new facility were announced last April in a partnership between the Missoula Insectarium, and the Extension and Weed District. As planned, 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.

“This is a time of excitement for us,” said Jerry Marks, who helped spearhead the project with the Extension and Weed District. “We’re making a lot of additions to the fairgrounds, helping people connect with the land, the plants and insects. We’re excited about moving forward.”

An artist’s rendering of the Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center. (Image courtesy of A&E Design)

Last July, the county approved the architectural and engineering agreement with A&E Design and Jackson Contracting, setting the groundwork for the estimated $12.5 million project.

The Rocky Mountain Exploration Center was included in the initial phase of renovations now taking place at the Fairgrounds, which began nearly two years ago and continues to advance.

The new exploration center broke ground off South Avenue in May and will take roughly 18 months to complete.

“We’ve been doing a good job at keeping close eyes on the budget going forward,” said county CFO Andrew Czorny. “This is where we expected to be at this point in time.”