Vancouver residents issue Academy fundraising challenge

Playground equipment firm's founder will match gifts until end of year

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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A local challenge grant should help bring the Fort Vancouver National Trust closer to its goal of buying and preserving the historic Academy building in downtown Vancouver.

The trust has been working to raise $10.6 million before the end of this year to buy the building, and 6.9 acres of surrounding property and ancillary buildings, from Vancouver's Hidden brothers. A longer-term goal is another $5 million for renovation and restoration of the property, which was built in 1873 by Mother Joseph, a missionary and Renaissance woman who came here in 1856 to establish the Sisters of Providence order in the Northwest.

The Academy building was an orphanage and then a Catholic school until it closed in 1966. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Now, Vancouver residents Ken and Dean Kirn have issued a matching-gift challenge to the community: Until the end of this year, they'll double everyone's donations to the campaign to save the building, up to $100,000.

Earlier this year, the Academy Campaign announced its intention to reach the $5 million benchmark by the end of May. But according to the most recent tally on its website, a total of just $3.85 million has been raised so far.

"Most campaigns have a silent phase of up to 18 months where you get some large commitments before you do a public launch," said trust development director Alishia Topper. "We didn't have that luxury."

"My wife and I see the significance of the Academy both historically and to our community," said Ken Kirn, the founder of Columbia Cascade Co., which is based in Portland and makes park benches, playground equipment and outdoor furniture. "We are happy to do our part to ensure the future preservation of this important piece of our region's history and welcome others to join us."

If you're interested, visit www.academycampaign.org or send checks to Academy Campaign, 750 Anderson St., Vancouver, WA 98661. For more information contact Topper, senior director of development, at 360-992-1801 or alishia.topper@fortvan.org.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; scott.hewitt@columbian.com