Vancouver Barracks HQ front and center

First of 4 buildings to have its exterior renovated will set the standard for the rest

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter




Previously: The National Park Service did a “caretaking” project to seal up historic Vancouver Barracks buildings.

What’s new: Structural work on the exterior of the former post headquarters has been completed.

What’s next: Exterior work on buildings will continue before interiors can be remodeled.

The Vancouver Barracks renovation project will follow the pattern set at headquarters.

That would be the smallest of the four barracks structures on the south side of the Parade Ground at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Officially inventoried as Building 991, the landmark with its distinctive cupola served as the Army post's headquarters a century ago.

It is the first among 26 historic buildings to undergo a protective exterior makeover since the National Park Service acquired the East Barracks in 2010. The rehabilitation project started on Sept. 9 and finished earlier this month.

The old HQ wasn't first in line because it pulled rank: It really needed the work, according to Alex Patterson, the Historic Site's facility manager. Of the largest signature buildings within the East and South Vancouver Barracks, Building 991 was in the worst condition.

"Its roof was the oldest and most damaged," Patterson said. It wasn't unusual for maintenance workers to find shingles on the ground that had been blown off the roof.

"It also had an active, substantial leak in the roof over the stairwell," Patterson said.

At one point in the project, the roofer told park officials that he could see right through the hole in the roof. The gutter system also was leaking in several places and water was trickling into the soffits and wall cavities, causing more damage.

The project includes new paint and refurbishing of the front porch.

"The porch is a defining element of 'Front Row,'" Patterson said, referring to buildings 987 (the one closest to the O.O. Howard House), 989, 991 and 993. "Front Row" is the park staff's nickname for the counterpart of Officers Row, which frames the north side of the Parade Ground.

"It's not a historic term," Patterson said, "but it's what we refer to informally."

The park planning staff didn't have to rely on guesswork when they tried to replicate the century-old Army command center.

"We have original plans and archive photographs," Patterson said.

The effort wasn't all tearing down and replacing. Some original elements were restored, including metal boxes that linked the gutters with the downspouts.

"A sheet metal company did the rehab on that," Patterson said. "We wanted to leave as much of the historic fabric as possible."

The building was repainted to match the look of others throughout the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.

The project will help provide a how-to guide for the National Park Service. Of the largest "signature" buildings, it was the smallest and easiest project to accomplish, said Ray Cozby, the park's project manager.

"With Building 991, we wanted to test our estimating accuracy, and try out our specifications for managing the lead paint and gutter work before doing the next, larger building," Cozby said.

Building 991's rehabilitation project came in under its budget estimate of $275,000.

What crews learned at the HQ building also will give them some idea of what to expect when they work on other buildings that date to the same era.

The pace of that future work hasn't been established, but it will take a while to rehab all the buildings, Patterson said.

"Ideally, we'd love to do one a year. But we have to compete with the rest of the Pacific West Region" for funding, he said.

Eventually, the building could regain its role as post HQ. Under the site's master plan for managing the barracks, Building 991 is a leading candidate to become the headquarters for the recently expanded National Park Service site.

That all will have to wait while the "Front Row" focus remains on exterior protection: "The hat and jacket, if you will," Patterson said.