Vancouver Barracks awaits next marching orders

Park service sets meetings on future of East, South areas

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Draft master plan for East and South Vancouver Barracks

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If you go

What: Public meetings on the East/South Vancouver Barracks master plan.

When: Noon to 2 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 22; and 6-8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23.

Where: Red Cross Building, 605 Barnes St.

On the Web

Click here for The Columbian’s special coverage, “Rediscovering Vancouver Barracks,” which includes an interactive tour of the site.

Click here for the National Park Service master plan

After serving our country for 162 years, the first permanent U.S. Army post in the Pacific Northwest is awaiting its next assignment.

The National Park Service has released a master plan offering four alternatives for the East and South portions of Vancouver Barracks, which were vacated in September when its last remaining Army units moved to a new military reserve center in the Sifton area.

The East and South Barracks have long been designated for transfer to the National Park Service. The master plan and environmental assessment now offer some future possibilities for the place where Ulysses S. Grant, Phil Sheridan and George Marshall once served.

Park service officials have scheduled two meetings where the public can review the master plan and comment on the four alternatives. The master plan also is available online, and a limited number of documents are available at the visitors center, at Evergreen Boulevard and East Reserve Street.

“Under all four alternatives, it will remain part of the national park system,” said Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. “The National Park Service will have ultimate authority for its protection and interpretation.”

The four options include a preferred alternative that would use some of the Barracks’ most visible buildings in what is described as a historic campus for public service, “where the multi-layered history of the East and South Barracks would be preserved and interpreted.”

Some of the four large buildings facing Officers Row could become offices for public agencies, including a headquarters for the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

That option -- listed as Alternative C -- also would provide a home for the site’s living-history resources used by more than 600 volunteers and staff members.

Link to military history preserved

There also would be plenty of space for a much-needed public display of early U.S. military history; Fort Vancouver has focused its interpretive efforts on the Hudson’s Bay Co. fur trading era.

“We looked at a lot of factors, including participation by the city and other partners,” said Ray Cozby, project manager. “Through that process, this alternative became the most advantageous.”

Those other partners would represent a mix of other uses. They could include nonprofit and community functions and limited commercial uses such as retail, restaurants, and a day care center. Overnight accommodations may be provided to support conferences, environmental field schools, school groups, and elder hostel groups.

Fortmann said she will make a recommendation after gathering public comment through March 5.

The director of the park service’s Pacific West region will make the final approval. That could happen by late spring or early summer, Fortmann said.

“That would allow us to move forward,” Fortmann said.

The other master-plan options include:

• Alternative A -- A no-action extension of current management practices;

• Alternative B -- An urban district in a historic setting, similar to Officers Row, that would include retail, office and residential uses;

• Alternative D -- An educational campus that focuses on educational, community and nonprofit uses that support interpretation of history specific to the site.

Since all the alternatives would include catching up on deferred maintenance of 17 buildings, all four -- including the “no action” option -- come with a one-time expense of about $65 million, according to the master plan.

The National Park Service’s two public meetings will be at the Red Cross Building, 605 Barnes St., on the northeast corner of Barnes Street and Hatheway Road. The Wednesday, Feb. 22 meeting will be from noon to 2 p.m., with a short guided site tour at 12:30 p.m. The second meeting will be Thursday, Feb. 23, beginning with a short guided site tour at 5:30 p.m.; the meeting will be from 6-8 p.m.

Each meeting will begin with a brief presentation showcasing the proposed changes for the East and South Vancouver Barracks. Members of the public will be able to give comments directly to National Park Service personnel.