Officials broke ground Friday on Vancouver’s VA campus for the nation’s 67th Fisher House — which means they’ve learned something since 1990 about building them.
A Fisher House is a home away from home for families of veterans or service personnel who are being treated at a military or a Veterans Affairs hospital.
One of the original Fisher Houses was built near Washington, D.C., at what now is Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It didn’t take long to recognize an oversight, David Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation, said.
“A soldier had lost his legs and he was wheeled in” to spend some time with his family, Coker said during Friday’s ceremony.
The soldier’s family was living on the second floor of the Fisher House, and the only way up was the stairs.
“People decided they could put him on a sheet and carry him up the stairs,” Coker said.
“You hear that once, and you get elevators.”
Vancouver is part of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Since the Vancouver campus has a lot more open space than Portland’s, a site just across the street from Clark College on the northwest side of Fort Vancouver Way was chosen for the Fisher House.
At 13,400 square feet, it will have suites for 16 families. It will provide free lodging for about 500 families a year.
The Portland VA Medical Center will operate the Fisher House, which is expected to open in September 2015.
“A year from this month, we will be back to celebrate the grand opening,” Joanne Krumberger, director of the Portland VA Medical Center, said. “It will be a homelike environment for families of veterans. They can be near their loved ones as they recover.”
The nonprofit Fisher House Foundation raised about $6 million for the project. There currently are two Fisher Houses in Washington. One is part of the Puget Sound VA system in Seattle; the other is at Joint Base Lewis McCord near Tacoma.
The Portland VA Medical Center serves veterans from across the Pacific Northwest, and it’s a national referral center for veterans who need liver and kidney transplants.
Most of the medical treatment is done on the Portland VA campus, but regularly scheduled shuttles transport people between the Portland and Vancouver sites.
Neeser Construction of Anchorage, Alaska, is the contractor. Neeser recently started work on another Fisher House at Joint Base Lewis McCord.
“We will start site work on Monday,” project manager John Sharp said. “In two or three weeks, we’ll be pouring concrete.”
If Friday’s groundbreaking hadn’t been scheduled, Sharp added, “We would have worked today.”