Trust reveals plan for Academy renovations

Improvements to the downtown historic building could start as early as this fall

The Academy

Although officially it won’t be a done deal until late January when escrow closes and the property deed changes hands, the Fort Vancouver National Trust’s acquisition of the historic Academy building is “moving forward,” according to Trust president and COO Mike True.

“There’s been a lot of behind the scenes legwork to make the transition as smooth as possible for the tenants,” said True. “They provide the income stream to maintain the building and are a very important component to the equation.”

When the deal is closed, True said, the Trust will begin the second phase of the initiative, which is to renovate the building and surrounding property.

“The Hiddens are a huge credit for their preservation of this building for the last 45 years,” said True. “The Trust will be the third and final owner, and will pick up where they left off and take it to a new level.”

True cited three areas as most challenging. Replacing the roof will be the first priority, to forestall any further deterioration. He said the roof is the most complex aspect of the project. Besides sheeting and new roof materials, he said it was likely that they would add seismic support. The exterior porches also pose challenges associated with bringing them in line with current accessibility and handrail height code requirements. Finally, said True, the surrounding grounds need to be landscaped to “highlight the building’s significance.” Currently, there’s a lot of open space with little vegetation or trees, and any landscape plan must make the site and building as accommodating as possible to visitors but not disruptive to tenants.

True said the campaign to secure renovation funding is ongoing. The Trust is seeking one million dollars from the state Legislature, as well as additional private funding. He said the Trust’s goal is to complete the fundraising by the end of the legislative session. If that goal is met, planning would occur this summer and improvements would commence this autumn.

Some of the questions the Trust needs to answer when planning the renovations include what time period to go back to (the building has 140 years of history) and how to best tell the story of Mother Joseph and the building.

“We want to make sure the history of the site is obvious to visitors,” said True, who called the building the “most iconic in our community and the birthplace of Providence Healthcare Services.”

The Trust, said True, did not want to repeat Yakima’s experience, which demolished a similar building in the 1980s.

“30 years later it’s an asphalt parking lot that tells no story about the community and its past,” True lamented.

The Trust’s long-term plans for the building center around commercial office space.

“The site fills an important niche for small business spaces. Our intent is to continue that use,” True stated.

The Trust also hopes to highlight public spaces such as the chapel and ballroom for public events, similar to how they’ve managed the Marshall House, Artillery Barracks and the Red Cross building.

“We want to make it inviting for people to come and learn about the building’s history, so interpretation and education is very key,” said True. “It’s a gateway into the historic site and provides a prime connection between the historic site and downtown.”

When the deal completes in January, the Trust will walk away with “free and clear” ownership of the building and the immediate property “through the generosity of the community.” Plans for the second parcel, the majority of which is parking, are yet to be finalized. He said there were a lot of unknowns about the property around the building.

“We’ll get into more details [about] how we can embrace the business and development community to best realize the potential around the building,” said True. “Parking is important to our community, but maybe not highest and best use. We want to develop it to a use that supports the initiatives of downtown and the sustainability of the site as a whole.”



Jodie Gilmore’s journalistic background includes more than 15 years of writing for the Vancouver Business Journal as well as other publications such as Northwest Women’s Journal, North Bank Magazine, American Builders Quarterly and The New American. A Master’s in Technical & Professional Writing and 20+ years in the trenches as a technical writer and online help developer round out her writing background. When not writing, she enjoys gardening and working on her small farm in the Cascade foothills.