HELENA — A building at the corner of Montana and 11th Avenues in Helena was once one of four local facilities occupied by the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Now, though, the OPI sign has come off the building, as it gets ready for a transfer to a new organization.
“I’m really excited that we have come together for better government,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen.
Starting Wednesday, the Montana State Library will begin moving into the building, from its current location in the Mazurek Justice Building.
The building at 1201 11th Avenue is privately owned, and OPI has occupied it on a multi-year lease, signed under former Superintendent Denise Juneau. Arntzen said they had been looking for someone to take over their lease for about a year, as her office tried to streamline their operations.
“Serving them better, serving them smarter – making sure that that consolidation of our voice is unified to serve our schools,” she said.
Arntzen said they considered a variety of options for the space – including the possibility of using it for child care for state employees, though they eventually concluded the building wasn’t well suited for children.
OPI reports 81 of its 204 employees are now tele-working, from 17 different counties. Arntzen said they’ve put a focus on giving employees greater flexibility, which she sees as a boost to recruiting and retaining staff.
Artnzen said OPI moved its last employees out of the building about two months ago. They will maintain offices in two buildings at 1227 and 1300 11th Avenue. Leaders said, because those buildings are government-owned, it costs significantly less per square foot to lease them. OPI had already left a fourth building, near the State Capitol, earlier in Arntzen’s tenure.
For the State Library, leaders say a move to the 11th Avenue building makes sense. State Librarian Jennie Stapp says they need less space than they once did because they’ve shifted to more “digital-first” operations. She said the new space will give them about 7,200 square feet, compared with their current 25,000.
In early July, when Helena was hit with severe flash flooding, the State Library received significant damage after a storm drain failed.
“It really made sense for us to take a hard look at our space needs,” said Stapp.
Stapp expects the new building will serve their needs well. She said they plan to be fully up and running there by early December. She doesn’t think there will be any interruption to the library’s services.
“We’ve gotten really adept at working remotely and continuing our services with these types of disruptions,” she said.
As for the State Library’s current space, it will likely need to be renovated before being repurposed. A spokesperson for the Montana Department of Administration, which oversees state facilities, said the department is “evaluating the space that will be vacated and is having discussions regarding its ultimate use.”
One agency that’s interested in the space is the Montana Department of Justice, which already has the Attorney General’s office located in the Justice Building. DOJ spokesperson Kyler Nerison said they hope to be able to consolidate some of the department’s other services there.