HELENA — Years after a fire damaged the structure of Helena’s historic Fire Tower, city leaders say they’re finally optimistic that they’ll be able to start restoration work soon – thanks in part to a grant from the Montana History Foundation.
“Restoration of the Fire Tower is definitely a priority for us at the Parks Department,” said Kristi Ponozzo, director of Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands. “We’ve been working for the last couple of years on securing funding.”
$10,000 of that funding will come from MHF, which announced $212,187 in grants last month, for 28 preservation projects across the state. In addition, the city of Helena has allocated $150,000 to the Fire Tower project. Ponozzo says they also have some private donations, lined up through the Lewis and Clark County heritage preservation officer.
“The funding is a huge part of it, but it’s also complex technically to restore the Fire Tower,” Ponozzo said. “It has to be done in a certain way with certain materials so that we keep the historic integrity of the Fire Tower, so getting all those pieces in place is really important too.”
The tower was originally built in 1874. In 2016, a suspicious fire damaged several of its timbers. Since then, engineers’ reports have shown it needs even more work than leaders originally thought.
Ponozzo says the city plans to have experts on wood construction come in this month and give an updated estimate of what it will take – and how much it will cost – to fully repair the tower.
“If all goes well, we’ll hopefully be able to have some sort of a project plan and a bid process in place this summer, and potentially be able to start the project this summer,” she said.
The next steps will depend on the costs of labor and materials, but Ponozzo says the city is excited to move forward as soon as possible.
“This is such an iconic piece to the Helena landscape and it’s a really important piece in our park system,” she said. “We want to make sure that it’s here for generations and that we can continue to light it and people can enjoy this piece of history that we have in downtown Helena.”
The Montana History Foundation has also given grants to several other Helena-based organizations this year, including Helena Civic Television, the Archie Bray Foundation and the Montana Association of State Grazing Districts. You can find a full list of grant recipients on the MHF website.