KEARNEY, Neb. — With the placing of a special beam, community leaders are marking a milestone in their efforts to better showcase Nebraska’s art.

Monday’s topping out ceremony at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney celebrated another step in a two-and-a-half year expansion and renovation project.

“It’s not about a small constituency, it’s not about a certain type of art, it’s about the whole state," Project Manager Jon Maass said. "The amount of pride that comes together around the building like this, around the museum like this, is impressive.”

With the signature-covered beam, crews finished work on the mass timber frame for the 23,000 square-foot addition. Project Manager Jon Maass says mass timber construction is rare for museums. It means the majority of the structure including most columns, beams and all of the floor structure is made of timber, which has sustainability and aesthetic benefits.

“It’s going to lend a substantial warmth to the building," Maass said. "Nearly all of the members that you see there will be exposed. So it really does become a major component to the overall experience when you’re inside the building.”

Past Board Chair Tom Gallagher says it’s been a hectic process to get to this point after breaking ground in December 2021. But he says it’s worth it to know the $31 million project is closing in on completion.

“It’s a way to show off the art and culture and history of Nebraska," Gallagher said. "That’s something that we want people to share. Also, it helps us unify. It helps us all be one set of Nebraskans.”

Staff will be able to occupy the building in April, the landscaping will be done in the summer and the museum should open in late summer or early fall. Maas is savoring the progress made so far.

“When you have an opportunity to get to this point and see that happen, it’s really, really special,” Maass said.