BOULDER — Montana Highway Patrol staff is moving furniture and crews have brought four semi-truck loads of boxes 30 miles south, as MHP takes the final steps to shift its headquarters from Helena to Boulder.
“As anybody who’s ever moved before, you don’t realize how much stuff you have until you have to move it,” said Sgt. Jay Nelson.
MHP is moving into the Administration Building on the former Montana Developmental Center campus. Earlier this year, state leaders agreed to transfer the more than 30-acre site to the Montana Department of Justice to be used as a new headquarters for the Patrol.
MHP had been in its current headquarters off Prospect Avenue in Helena since 1996. Leaders said it had long become inadequate for their needs, and the Boulder site solved many of their challenges.
One improvement is that the new headquarters is owned by the state. MHP had been paying $100,000 a year to lease its Helena facility.
“We’re able to be more fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ dollars,” Nelson said. “That’s first and foremost.”
Additionally, the facility provides much more room, allowing them to store crash records, uniforms, firearms and other supplies in a single place.
“It’s just ease and access: being able to access records, being able to access supplies that were otherwise in a storage shed that we might have to go out and shovel snow and get into at 40-below-zero weather,” said Nelson.
The MDC previously provided treatment for people with severe intellectual disabilities. The state began phasing it out in 2015, as residents moved to community-based programs. The facility officially closed in November 2018.
Nelson said the building had been kept in good condition, and MHP only had to make minor improvements to get it ready to move in. The biggest changes were a new secure entry and welcome desk for the visitors.
The new headquarters will officially open for business on Monday, with about 25 employees working there. That will include MHP chief Col. Steve Lavin and his command staff, as well as human resources, fiscal, records and fleet and supply services. Nelson said they are looking at moving radio technicians and training staff to Boulder in the future.
While they’re centered in the Administration Building for now, Nelson said that is only “Phase 1” of their plans for the campus. In the coming years, they hope to repurpose the other MDC buildings they’ve taken control of, including a school and gymnasium and a number of residences. Eventually they hope to be able to host cadets during MHP academies and troopers during trainings.
Nelson said MHP has to pay any time they need an outside space for training. Last year, they spent another $65,000 during one program to put people up in hotel rooms.
“Being able to have a facility that’s ready, that you don’t have to reserve and you don’t have to pay for, is going to be a great thing for the highway patrol,” he said.
A sign is already up in Boulder, pointing the way to the new headquarters. Some of the streets on the MDC campus have been renamed to things like “Trooper Drive” and “Patrol Road” to mark MHP’s presence.
The agency’s move brings activity back to the MDC site – once one of Boulder’s biggest employers. Community leaders have said it’s a major boost for the area.
“The reaction from the city of Boulder and the residents of Jefferson County has really been unbelievable,” Nelson said. “Having open arms is an understatement to how we’ve been treated.”
The former MHP headquarters in Helena will not sit empty for long. State administrators say the space will now be leased to the Montana Department of Revenue.