Rediscovering Vancouver Barracks

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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For more than 160 years, Fort Vancouver has been built around the presence of the U.S. Army.

But over the next 14 months, members of the National Park Service and the Fort Vancouver National Trust will be working to build a new future for the 366-acre landmark — one without the constant sight of men and women in fatigues and hundreds of Reserve soldiers doing drills on the grounds.

As part of the 2005 Army Base Realignment and Closure Act, the Army will leave behind its longtime home in the East and South Barracks by fall 2011, dispersing to Fort Lewis and to a new reserve center in east Vancouver.

The 33 acres that the Army still holds on the site will go to the Park Service, which is working to craft a master plan for how to preserve and best use the pre-World War I buildings the Army will leave behind. Offices, museum space, and commercial and retail spots are all among the ideas.

Just across Fort Vancouver Way, the city of Vancouver and the nonprofit Fort Vancouver National Trust also have their own dreams for shaping the West Barracks, a tract that includes the iconic (and empty) Post Hospital and the large (and also empty) Artillery Barracks.

They point to the successful $10.9 million renovation of Officers Row and the $2 million restoration of the Red Cross building to inspire them as they look to bring the rest of the West Barracks up to code and into modern use.

But in both the East and West Barracks, money’s going to be a problem. Getting a big brick building like the Post Hospital up to seismic standards or removing the lead from the Artillery Barracks is going to take millions of dollars, officials acknowledge.

Some buildings that the Park Service declares surplus could be considered for demolition.

But the Park Service plans to remodel the 1960s visitor center that is woefully undersized to serve the more than 1 million visitors who come through every year.

A new tradition is also being established, as well. Today, a revamped fireworks show will again fill the skies above the city’s link to America’s past, after a one-year absence.