Story and photos by Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

BIG SKY – Standing shoulder to shoulder, some 20 Big Sky community members dug golden shovels into the soil on Bozeman Deaconess Health Services’ property in the Town Center on Sept. 30, in the ceremonial groundbreaking for its Big Sky Medical Center.

“It’s a day to put our hands together and be grateful as a community,” said Taylor Middleton, general manager at Big Sky Resort, at the noontime community luncheon where Electric Sunday played background music and a number of people gave speeches in a large white tent under rainy skies.

BDHS plans to continue soil and geothermal studies on the 7.5-acre plot on Lone Peak Trail this fall, and “break ground with the big equipment next March and April,” according to BDHS CEO Kevin Pitzer. The medical center should be open by late summer or fall 2015, he added.

“There are no holdbacks with this project in any way,” he told the crowd of nearly 150 community members, BDHS officials and media teams before grabbing his golden shovel for a photo op.

“[This groundbreaking] is truly a start and reinforces our continuous commitment to the community,” Pitzer said. “It’s an exciting new direction for us in providing healthcare for Big Sky.”

BDHS’ Board of Trustees Chairman Terry Cunningham spoke first, telling the audience, “This is your hospital.” Bill Simkins, developer for Big Sky Town Center, from which BDHS acquired the land, also took the microphone to endorse the hospital. Montana Director of Veteran Affairs Denny Lenoir followed, reading a letter from Rep. Steve Daines praising the new facility.

“This medical facility will not only create jobs, but will also offer critical access to life-saving medical care in Big Sky,” Lenoir read.

Local doctor Maren Dunn, who operates Gallatin Family Medicine in Big Sky, said the medical center is a long time coming.

“The more infrastructure you have, the bigger a community gets,” she said. “It’s awesome and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I just don’t want to wait two years for it [to be built].”

In mid-May, a the Big Sky/West Yellowstone Healthcare Directions Committee – comprised of six West Yellowstone citizens and 22 Big Sky residents – met with BDHS and Billings Clinic, both interested in building a medical center in Big Sky.

The committee then hired an outside consultant, Howard Gershon of New Heights Group, to assess both hospitals’ feasibility studies. Holding four public meetings between July 17 and Aug. 7, the committee voted for Billings Clinic to build, after Gershon recommended Bozeman Deaconess’ plan.

Since then, BDHS has maintained it will move forward with plans to build their medical facility in Big Sky. Billings Clinic continues to push forward with its plan to build in Big Sky, though it has not yet acquired land to do so, according to Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation.