Deal marks start of proposed $40M North Dakota military museum; facility would expand Heritage Center

Posted 11/30/22 (Wed)


The State Historical Society of North Dakota and the North Dakota National Guard have agreed to partner on efforts to develop a North Dakota military museum that officials aim to build in Bismarck with a mix of private and public money.

The envisioned facility would cost an estimated $40 million and would add a wing on the southeast side of the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum on the state Capitol grounds. It would highlight all branches of the military, and "preserve and honor the rich military history of North Dakota," officials said. The project is in the beginning stages. 

"This is the first baby steps toward getting something going," Guard spokesman Bill Prokopyk said of a cooperative agreement signed Monday by Historical Society Director Bill Peterson, who is the state's historic preservation officer, and Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, adjutant general of the Guard. The museum idea has been in the works for some time and officials are "finally getting rolling," Prokopyk said.

Dohrmann during the 2021 Legislature received permission for the nonprofit North Dakota National Guard Foundation to raise $10 million in private funds for a National Guard museum, according to retired Lt. Col. Shirley Olgeirson, the state Guard historian. The idea later expanded to a museum for all military, she said.

The National Guard Foundation commissioned a feasibility study this fall that sought feedback from military members, historians, lawmakers, Native Americans, business leaders and others across the state.

"The climate seemed to be very positive for a military museum," Olgeirson said. 

It's possible the project could be funded with a mix of private and public money, along the lines of the planned Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library near Medora, according to Prokopyk. But he and Olgeirson said the bulk of the cost is likely to be funded by donations.

No money has been raised yet. The next steps are for officials to get authority from the 2023 Legislature for the project and the fundraising, and approval from the Capital Grounds Planning Commission to begin design work, according to Olgeirson. Prokopyk said an amphitheater is to be part of the design.

Officials hope to break ground for construction sometime during the state's next two-year budget period. The Historical Society would operate the museum once it's built.

"The museum will be another jewel in the North Dakota crown -- a place for knowledge, reflection and inspiration for all North Dakota citizens," Peterson said.

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