Will Post Hospital make an artful transition?

Representatives of arts community discuss potential uses for building

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Update

■ Previously: The Army’s old Post Hospital has been unused since the mid-1990s.

■ What’s new: A community conversation Tuesday explored the possibility of using it as an arts center.

■ What’s next: Input will help shape the architectural and engineering process.

A complete history of the barracks including every building is at http://www.columb...

Almost a century ago, the hospital at Vancouver Barracks helped 20,500 patients recover from the Spanish flu.

Now the big brick building is a candidate for recovery.

Maybe it has a future as a visual arts center, maybe as a music venue, maybe as a theater. How about all of the above?

And those were just a few of the possibilities mentioned Tuesday during a community conversation. The Fort Vancouver National Trust invited about 80 representatives from local art constituencies to discuss the former Post Hospital overlooking northbound Interstate 5 in downtown Vancouver.

The building has 29,000 square feet of usable space distributed over three floors and a basement. Built in 1904 and 1905, the Post Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical center and did a 90-year hitch on active duty. The hospital ended its military career as office space for the U.S. Army and has been vacant since the mid-1990s.

The former hospital is owned by the city of Vancouver, but the Fort Vancouver National Trust holds the lease for the building.

Tuesday’s meeting at the Pearson Air Museum focused on its possible transition to civilian life. Candidates included studios for pretty much all visual and creative arts, from the most delicate watercolors to the industrial-grade heat of molten glass.

The performing arts had their advocates, proposing performance venues for ensembles ranging from chamber music groups to Dixieland bands.

Proposals extended beyond performance and creative facilities. Artists need offices, too, someone noted, plus some help on the business and tax side of things.

An education center, a museum, a rotating gallery to showcase the creations from other artists’ workshops around the community also were forwarded.

The conversation also crossed paths with a long-running discussion of a local performing arts center, which has been on the back burner for a year of so. But Val Ogden, a longtime leader in the effort to build a performing arts center, said the campaign is gathering energy again, and might provide a fitting partner for the hospital conversion.

With the art-center group looking for a possible place to call home, the Vancouver Police Department building on Evergreen Boulevard tops the wish list, Ogden said.

The two sites, just a block or so apart, would provide a great nucleus for an art-centered campus.

More than 60 people had a chance to walk through the old hospital building a few days ago and get a sense of the possibilities. The 12-foot-high ceilings, crowned by stamped tin panels, include spaces for intimate studios and performance venues that could seat 100.

But the building definitely is a fixer-upper.

The U.S. Army had money to fund renovation of some buildings, but, “They ran out at this one,” said Elson Strahan, president of the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

“The paint undoubtably has lead; there’s asbestos tile. But it’s all workable,” Strahan said.