A salute to the future at Vancouver Barracks

Public meetings focus on four possibilities for folding the former military campus into the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Rediscovering Vancouver Barracks

The Columbian’s special coverage, “Rediscovering Vancouver Barracks,” which includes an interactive tour of the site, is at

http://www.columbian.com/news/barracks/

If you go

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

• When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

• Where: E.B. Hamilton Hall (old Red Cross building), 605 Barnes St.

• Info: People can comment online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/fova.

On the Web

The National Park Service master plan page: http://bit.ly/w4Rxny

The concept of a historic Vancouver Barracks campus, blending public agencies with expanded museum displays and some commercial use, came into sharper focus in a public meeting Wednesday.

The National Park Service hosted the public meeting as part of what it calls a “Post-to-Parks” transition. It’s part of the process of acquiring the East and South portions of Vancouver Barracks, which ended 162 years of military service in September.

A similar two-hour public meeting to discuss the draft of the master plan will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at the old Red Cross Building, 605 Barnes St.

Parks planners have identified four possibilities for folding the East and South Barracks into the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. They selected a preferred alternative after looking at costs, financial viability and the park service mission, lead planner Tom Gibney said.

The preferred option would highlight four multistory buildings that front the parade ground and face Officers Row. Shown in site maps as the “900” series, they are Vancouver Barracks’ four signature buildings, Gibney said.

Bob Cromwell concurred as he led a 35-minute tour around the barracks grounds.

“When people think of Vancouver Barracks, they think of those four buildings,” the Fort Vancouver archaeologist said.

Under the preferred option, one of those buildings would become the headquarters of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Thanks to a fortuitous (in retrospect, anyway) funding shortfall, the building on the east end of the row Building 993 still is true to its original roots and is a good candidate for historical interpretation.

“It’s intact,” Cromwell said. “It was occupied by the Washington National Guard, which had a lot less money than the U.S. Army, and they couldn’t (remodel) it.”

There is a difference between restoring historic buildings and rehabilitating them, Cromwell added. Fort Vancouver sees Vancouver Barracks as a big rehab project.

“Rehabilitation means making them usable today. Our goal is not to restore them to their original state,” Cromwell said. “They were designed for young soldiers. To make them accessible to the public, they must be rehabilitated, not restored.”

There is a lot of room to fill about 240,000 square feet in 17 East and South Barracks buildings. The park service would be looking to rent office space to other public agencies as well as businesses and community organizations.

If hundreds of people were employed on the campus, there would be a opportunities for restaurants, coffee shops and day care.

It’s the prospect of property rentals that would make Vancouver Barracks self-sustaining, said Alex Patterson, Fort Vancouver’s facilities supervisor.

A resident of West Barracks, which has already transitioned to civilian management, Maya Jones said she’s looking forward to seeing more people around the place.

“I want to see people back in these buildings,” said Jones, who lives across the street from the Red Cross Building.

“It’s eerie, walking around with nobody around,” said Jones, whose red brick rental duplex used to be housing for Army noncommissioned officers.

The other alternatives include:

• No action, which is a required option.

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

• 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.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.