Montana Highway Patrol prepares to move headquarters from Helena to Boulder

MDC Administration Building
MDC Campus
Posted at 7:38 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 00:46:13-04

HELENA — The Montana Highway Patrol is making a big move over the next few months. MHP is shifting its headquarters 30 miles south – from Helena to the former Montana Developmental Center campus in Boulder.

Earlier this week, Governor Greg Gianforte issued an executive order, finalizing the transfer of most of the campus from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to the Montana Department of Justice.

MHP will begin moving into the former MDC administration building in the coming weeks. Among the roughly 25 employees making the move will be Col. Steve Lavin, who leads the agency, and other top administrators. Fiscal, records, training and equipment staff will also shift to Boulder.

MHP has been in its current headquarters off Prospect Avenue in Helena for nearly 25 years. Sgt. Jay Nelson says the agency outgrew the facility a long time ago.

“We have boxes stacked everywhere,” he said. “We have storage facilities that some of our civilian staff – as well as uniformed – have to go outside in the elements just to obtain records and other things needed for their daily jobs.”

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 Attorney General Austin Knudsen and chief deputy attorney general Kris Hansen – both of whom served in the Legislature during the MDC transition – saw the facility as an ideal option for MHP.

“Here’s a facility that’s already owned by the state, the Highway Patrol does not have to pay a lease, and we’ve got potential for growth,” he said.

Nelson said MHP currently spends more than $100,000 to lease its Helena headquarters.

While the move means more space for MHP, it also means a big boost for the Boulder community. MDC once employed about 250 people, in a and the loss of those jobs was hard on the local economy.

“I think we’re an adaptable community,” said Drew Dawson, president of the Boulder City Council. “We have tried to adjust the best we can, but it certainly has had an impact.”

The incoming MHP employees won’t account for all of that loss, but leaders say it will still be a significant shot in the arm for the community.

“The folks that work here will be downtown eating and getting groceries and coming to the hardware store and buying stuff they need at home,” said Cory Kirsch, a Jefferson County commissioner and owner of Hardware Hank in Boulder. “So it’s going to drastically improve business here, I think, even if it’s 20 to 40 full-time units out here.”

Nelson said this move is only the first phase, and more could come in the future. For example, MHP is looking at eventually moving its academies to Boulder. The former residential cottages would provide a place for cadets to stay, and there would also be room for classes and training.

MHP is currently preparing for some security improvements and other work at the new campus. Nelson said they hope to have the new headquarters in place by the end of June.

Community leaders say they’re excited to bring in a new, long-term partner for Boulder.

“It seems like, just almost a perfect fit,” Dawson said.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Kirsch. “We’ve been on the downside for so long; having this positive thing coming to Boulder, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Nelson said MHP is grateful for the welcome they’ve received in Boulder.

“Nothing but positive interactions from all the entities in Jefferson County and the city of Boulder – and believe me, that makes the Montana Highway Patrol and the Department of Justice feel good,” he said.

Once the headquarters is fully moved, MHP will still have a presence in Helena. Its local detachment will include two sergeants and up to 10 troopers. It will also continue to provide law enforcement services at the State Capitol and protection for state leaders. In addition, the MHP dispatch center will remain in the Helena area.

DPHHS is keeping control of part of the MDC campus, where it now operates the smaller Intensive Behavior Center – a 12-bed facility providing short-term treatment for those with developmental disabilities who cannot be safely served in the community.