Adaptive-reuse project means makeover for West Barracks

Renovation will give four buildings new lease on life

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter



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To see another photo and a map showing the location of the buildings, plus other details about the project, hover your mouse over the photo above and click the directional arrow on the right to move through the photo slider.

For More

To see another photo and a map showing the location of the buildings, plus other details about the project, hover your mouse over the photo above and click the directional arrow on the right to move through the photo slider.

A year-long renovation of four historic wooden buildings at Fort Vancouver’s West Barracks will begin this summer, converting the Artillery Barracks, Infantry Barracks, Quartermaster Storehouse and Dental Surgeon’s Building into residential apartments and space for office, retail and hospitality use.

The city of Vancouver is funding the $8.3 million project with a combination of state grants, revenue generated from operation of Fort Vancouver property and city bonds, including “mini-bonds” that citizens can purchase for $500 to $10,000.

“Anything we can do to preserve and restore those buildings, we should do that,” Mayor Pro Tem Larry Smith told the city council at last Monday’s workshop. “This is probably one of the greatest assets of our community.”

The city selected Bassetti Architects of Portland to design the adaptive-reuse renovation project because of the firm’s experience with historic structures. Construction is scheduled to go out for bid April 28, with a contract awarded by June 16. The project has an estimated completion date of June 2016.

The West Barracks are among city-owned properties in the Vancouver National Historic Reserve and are managed for the city by the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

The Army moved out of the Artillery Barracks in 1999, but the other three buildings have been vacant for decades. Their exterior appearances won’t change much, but the interiors will. The buildings are empty shells — the Army gutted most of the structures down to the studs. However, a few character-defining features remain that the city will take pains to preserve, such as wood floors, wainscotting, pressed tin ceilings and the original space layouts.

Here’s the project at a glance:

• The Artillery Barracks will have an open office floor plan. Half of the first floor was renovated in 2011 and is rented out for special events and meetings. That space will remain the same. Restrooms and an elevator will be added. Square footage of building: 40,226 (including basement.)

• The Quartermaster Storehouse (1,709 square feet) will be outfitted with utility stub-outs so a food and beverage service operator easily could plug a kitchen into the space. The city and National Trust hope to attract a coffee shop or cafe to the building, which is on a popular walking route.

• The Dental Surgeon’s Building (1,702 square feet) could be used for multiple purposes, such as a yoga studio, artist’s studio or office space for a small start-up company.

• The Infantry Barracks will contain six studio apartments and six one-bedroom apartments, ranging in size from 359 to 532 square feet. Preliminary rents are targeted at $650 to $750 a month. While the city wants to keep the rents competitive, it also must pay off the debt incurred for the project, and the careful renovation required for old buildings is expensive, said Jan Bader, the city’s program and policy development manager. That means the rents can’t be below market rates, she said.

The city requested period-specific touches in the kitchens and baths for the apartments to give them a vintage, early 20th century charm. Bassetti Architects enlisted an interior designer to choose paint colors, cabinets and fixtures, such as pedestal sinks.

“They’re not going to be just plain Jane,” Bader said of the apartments, which will feature large windows and hardwood floors.

The historic reserve already has 52 residential housing units, including Officers Row, but none of them are studios.

“Having those small residential units brings the density and activity on evenings and weekends,” said Michael True, president and chief operating officer of the Fort Vancouver National Trust. “That’s important so the area doesn’t just go dark on non-business hours.”

Bond sales

Residents will have the chance to invest in the project and participate in preserving Vancouver’s heritage. About $5 million of the project’s funding will come from city-issued bonds, of which $1.5 million will be targeted for sales to the local community.

This is the first time the city will issue “mini bonds,” a program other jurisdictions have used with success, Bader said. One advantage is the interest the city pays on the bonds would remain in the local economy.

“It’s a creative way for the city to engage the community,” True said. “The city has a great credit rating, which makes it a safe investment.”

Called Vancouver Heritage Bonds, the mini-bonds will be similar to savings bonds, which are purchased at one amount and grow to a higher amount at maturity. They would carry higher interest rates due to no secondary market and no early redemption.

For instance, a $500 bond purchased today at current interest rates would grow to $625 in six years, with a return of about 3.44 percent. Or, a $500 bond purchased today would grow to $943 in 14 years, a return of about 4.42 percent.

The city council is scheduled April 20 to approve bond sale, after which information about how to buy them will be posted on the city’s website. Purchasers will be redirected to a secure U.S. Bank site for online purchase. The public also may buy Vancouver Heritage Bonds in person at U.S. Bank branches and through a mobile app. They’ll receive an actual bond certificate — a piece of paper that will need to be stored in a safe place.

The mini-bonds are expected to go on sale sometime in May.