A campaign to "Save the Cupola" at the Ravalli County Museum is about to kick off.

Museum supporters are raising about $196,000 to remove the cupola from the 1900 Hamilton building and repair it on the ground, then replace it atop the structure. Work will also repair the roof and add insulation.

About $141,000 for the project is coming from state and federal grants, said Tamar Stanley, the museum's director. The grants are aimed at energy efficiency.

While museum supporters hope to raise the rest from the community, county commissioners on Tuesday voted to redirect the $12,000 annual appropriation toward museum operating expenses to pay instead for a loan to conduct the work if necessary.

County voters in 1974 said they'd rather spend their tax money on the building than see it torn down, said Commissioner Kathleen Driscoll, and this fund redirection helps satisfy that vote.

"I think it's a building we need to take care of," Driscoll said.

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The museum was originally the county courthouse, and was built in 1900 by A.J. Gibson. County operations moved out in 1979. Now its collection includes pieces on Native Americans, development of the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, an antique kitchen, miner/trapper room, a veteran's display, Ernst Peterson photo exhibits and more.

Stanley said little preservation work had been done to the building in the past 20 years.

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"It is leaking, and the trim is damaged," Stanley said. "So we are going to take it off and rebuild it."

Reporter Jeff Schmerker can be reached at 363-3300 or jeff.schmerker@ravallirepublic.com.