Projects breathe new life into Barracks

Vancouver, Fort Vancouver National Trust work to turn former Army buildings into vibrant features in downtown community

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Did You Know?

• The West Barracks is part of the Fort Vancouver National Site, a 366-acre campus in Vancouver’s historic core owned and administered by city, federal and nonprofit partners. The South Barracks and East Barracks were acquired by the National Park Service and are part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

• For leasing information, contact the Fort Vancouver National Trust at 360-992-1805 (commercial) or 360-992-1807 (residential).

A year from now, people will be living in a historic setting, in a dozen apartments that are new yet still retain elements of their 1887 origins.

And the residents won’t have to deal with many of the things that inconvenienced previous occupants. Those little irritants included bugle wake-ups, group calisthenics and shooting-range bullets fired toward their sleeping quarters.

That was all part of being in the U.S. Army.

The Army moved out of the Infantry Barracks decades ago, and it has taken until now to renovate the 7,500-square-foot structure for apartments. The work is part of a $6.4 million construction project at West Vancouver Barracks. The names of the project’s other three buildings — the Artillery Barracks, the Dental Surgeon’s Building and the Quartermasters Storehouse — also reflect their former roles on the longtime Army post.

“We’re very happy those buildings are ready to come back to life,” said Jan Bader, program and policy development manager for the city of Vancouver.

The West Barracks is owned by the city and managed by the nonprofit Fort Vancouver National Trust. The partnership also owns and manages Officers Row and other West Barracks properties, including 14 brick duplexes across the street from the construction site.

The two-story Artillery Barracks is the largest of the four buildings at 21,000 square feet. The rehabilitation work is creating office space to go with an event center and meeting venues that were built during a 2011 renovation.

Infantry Barracks

The two-story Infantry Barracks, however, will bring something special: residents. The apartments mean that the new life in those rehabilitated buildings won’t leave when office workers and business operators call it a day; people will potentially be there 24/7, Bader said.

The Infantry Barracks “was all basically gutted when we came in,” said Kaare Hyde, the National Trust’s facilities manager.

Architects pretty much had a blank canvas, and drew up a new interior that has six one-bedroom apartments (400 square feet) and six studio apartments (320 square feet).

The Infantry Barracks, like the rest of the rehabilitated buildings, will retain many original features.

“They will be modern but reflective of the periods when they were built,” Bader said. “We deliberately hired a firm, Bassetti Architects, that had a lot of experience in historic architecture.”

In the apartments, that will show up in 10-foot ceilings.

“The original fir floors will be refinished, and we are using the original windows,” Hyde said.

The original 130-year-old stairway will lead from the west entry down to the street.

Officials have not determined what it will cost to lease the units.

“Once we’ve completed the work, we will do a market analysis,” Hyde said.

More than 30 people are already on a waiting list for these apartments.

Artillery Barracks

The biggest piece of the project is a double barracks, with a pair of L-shaped buildings set end to end. It resulted in the C-shaped Artillery Barracks, which wraps around a courtyard.

“The courtyard is where troops would do exercises,” Hyde said.

The rehabilitation project, which started in February, is converting the west half of the Artillery Barracks and the second floor of the east wing into office space.

Since the building will be publicly accessible, interpretive space will showcase some of the site’s history since the Army’s arrival in 1849.

Even the attic of the Artillery Barracks has a history.

“There used to be a shooting range up here,” Hyde said during a tour of the building. “There are bullet holes in a ventilator shaft. We don’t know what the backstop was, but they were shooting in the direction of the Infantry Barracks.”

The 1,800-square-foot Dental Surgeon’s Building likely has a future as commercial office space and a gallery.

A new role for the 1,700-square-foot Quartermasters Storehouse has not been formalized, but food service and art space are possibilities.

Work should be finished by April, Hyde said.

The National Park Service is doing a similar rehabilitation project on its portion of Vancouver Barracks, on the east side of Fort Vancouver Way.

While there is no connection between the projects, they have a couple of things in common that will give all the buildings a uniform appearance. They will use the same black roofing shingles and a standard beige exterior paint, Hyde said.

Most of the funding comes from city-issued bonds, including $1.5 million worth of heritage minibonds reserved for local community members. The state has provided $1 million and $309,000 came from a State Historical Society grant.