Senators support state funding for Children's Center, Academy project

Schools for blind, deaf also in Senate's capital budget

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Upgrading the Children's Center in Vancouver and preserving Vancouver's historic Academy building are projects Washington senators hope to invest in, according to a capital budget they proposed Tuesday.

The Senate's two-year spending proposal would give $1.2 million to the Children's Center, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to children and families. It also would give up to $1 million toward the Fort Vancouver National Trust's fundraising effort to acquire and preserve the Academy building and grounds at 400 E. Evergreen Blvd.

The budget plan also includes $500,000 for campus preservation at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver and $1 million for building maintenance at the Washington School for the Deaf, also in Vancouver.

The capital budget puts money toward purchasing, constructing or improving buildings for projects that benefit the public. It is approved separately from the state's general operating budget.

Trust money

The capital budget plan would appear to give the Fort Vancouver National Trust a choice in how to spend the $1 million, the trust's chief operations officer, Mike True, said. The $1 million can either go toward its quest to raise $16 million to buy and restore the Academy building, or it can go toward converting the Infantry Barracks building on the Fort Vancouver National Site into apartments. Or, it could be split between the two.

Either way, True said, it's "good news on the Vancouver home front. We're very excited."

The Academy building was the 1873 home of Pacific Northwest pioneer Mother Joseph and the Sisters of Providence. The 7-acre property it sits on has been owned since 1969 by brothers Monte, Bill and Oliver Hidden, descendants of the Vancouver family that supplied the bricks for the Colonial-style structure, said to be one of Washington state's most historically significant.

Nearby, the Infantry Barracks is being mothballed and needs rehabilitation, according to the trust. It was built in 1887 and is the oldest structure in the West Barracks area of the Fort Vancouver National Site, according to the trust.

Converting the barracks into single-bedroom and studio apartments will add variety to the site's housing options. Fort Vancouver already has two single-family rental homes in the West Barracks and 36 townhouses on Officers Row.

Additionally, the capital budget proposal would assign $283,000 to the Washington State Heritage Capital Projects Fund, which would preserve the historic Post Hospital in the West Barracks. That building was constructed in 1904 and 1905.

True said he is "thrilled" to see the state place such an importance in historical projects in Southwest Washington.

Mental health center

The $1.2 million for the Children's Center would go to build a new facility for the nonprofit east of Interstate 205, said state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

The Children's Center is a state-licensed community mental health agency, and it has provided mental health services for children, youth and families for more than 20 years. More than 90 percent of the families served by the agency live in low-income households, and at any given time, the center has roughly 600 children on its case load.

"They have gone beyond capacity" at the west Vancouver location, said Stonier, who serves on the House Capital Budget Committee.

"We're just delighted with the Senate budget that came out," Children's Center Executive Director Pat Beckett said. "We owe the leadership of the 17th District a huge debt of gratitude. Sen. (Don) Benton, Rep. (Paul) Harris and Rep. Stonier have just been incredibly supportive and real advocates for this project. ... We're keeping our fingers crossed that the House budget is just as positive."

Other budget requests

The capital budget plan must gain approval of the state House of Representatives.

In addition to new money for the Children's Center and for the Fort Vancouver National Trust, Clark County legislators have submitted funding requests for a new building for a long-term adult care facility, improvements at the west Vancouver food pantry FISH, and upgrading the YWCA Clark County.

The 2013 Washington legislative session is set to conclude April 28.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu;http://twitter.com/col_politics;stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.