Academy focus of fundraising efforts

Trust has raised about $3M of the $16M needed to purchase, renovate historic building

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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In 1859 Mother Joseph incorporated the Sisters of Providence organization and set about establishing its Vancouver headquarters, the historic Academy.

Now, that corporation's 65,000 employees are trying to raise money to restore their mother home and to name its landmark bell tower in honor of one of Washington state's oldest corporations.

Renton-based Providence Health & Services is the 153-year-old outgrowth of Mother Joseph's corporation, Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence in the Territory of Washington. Providence workers have already raised $170,000 toward a $1 million goal for naming rights to the bell tower.

"We want to call it The Providence Bell," said Sister Susanne Hartung, chief mission integration officer for Providence. "For us, Vancouver is a real point of historical significance and also a pilgrimage that takes us back to our roots."

So far, a trust has raised about $2.9 million to purchase and renovate the historic Academy at 400 E. Evergreen Blvd. Its prospective buyer, the Fort Vancouver National Trust, needs another $7.7 million by March to acquire the brick building for $10.6 million. Another $5.4 million is needed for construction updates.

With the total goal adding up to $16 million, fundraisers are still $13.1 million short of their goal for the capital campaign, said Alishia Topper, senior director of development at the nonprofit Fort Vancouver National Trust. The historic preservation nonprofit announced plans in May to purchase the Academy from brothers Monte, Bill and Oliver Hidden, owners since 1969 and ancestors of the Vancouver family that supplied the bricks for the Colonial-style structure.

"We need to at least raise the $10.6 million to purchase the building by the end of March, so there is some urgency," Topper said.

Help is on the way, said Hartung, who regularly takes Providence leaders on tours of the three-story Academy building, a former Catholic school.

"I've been leading them for the last 10 years," she said. Hartung estimated she's led more than 2,000 Providence leaders on tours of the building, Fort Vancouver's National Historic Site and Mother Joseph's grave at the St. James Acres cemetery, just north of Fourth Plain Boulevard at 29th and O streets.

Mother Joseph lived from 1828 to 1902. In her mission to care for the poor and vulnerable, she established a network of hospitals and schools throughout the Pacific Northwest.

"As people go through the Academy, they know the importance of our mission," Hartung said.

She added that every tour group is asked to contribute at the close of the tour. "Generally, people give $100 or $200," she said.

Hartung said Providence Health & Services will roll out a systemwide fundraising campaign in February. With a goal to raise $1 million, Providence employees will be able to donate through a link to the trust's Academy website.

"We haven't launched it throughout the five states yet," she said. Providence facilities stretch from Alaska to California and include 28 hospitals. Donor names will be displayed on a plaque next to the bell tower.

No fatal flaws

Officials at the Fort Vancouver National Trust envision shops and restaurants ringing The Academy's 7-acre grounds to serve tourists. But first, they'll bring the building up to code.

"It needs a new roof and its entrance is inadequate for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)," said Mike True, the trust's chief financial officer and chief operations officer. He said the Academy passed its environmental, architectural and seismic evaluations.

The historic structure has no fatal flaws, said True, who expects trust and community donors to come through with the needed $16 million. Vancouver philanthropist Ed Lynch made the first $2 million pledge in May.

"This is a very ambitious campaign, to even have the expectation that you're going to raise $16 million is very ambitious," True said.

If the campaign comes up short, he anticipates working out a new timeline with the Hidden family sellers.

"The trust is motivated to buy the property and the sellers are motivated to sell," he said.