USDB Hospital

Project: Building 465 – the former USDB Hospital, United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) on Fort Leavenworth Military Post
Client: Yeager Architecture (formerly Berger Devine Yeager)
Services by Spencer Preservation: Historic Survey Report, design review and historic consulting on building rehabilitation
Date: 2010-11

Building 465 is one of ten historic buildings within the walled USDB compound that were mothballed pending reuse.  Today, all but two of the buildings have been renovated for classroom and administrative facilities for the Army. 

The historic USDB is within the Fort Leavenworth National Landmark Historic District.  Building 465, the Prison Hospital, was completed in 1930 and is designated a contributing member of the National Landmark District.

Building 465 was the third hospital to serve the military prison since its establishment in 1875.  Building 465 was constructed in 1929 as a hospital, to serve an inmate population that had outgrown the former hospital.  Building 465 continually served its original function for forty years.  The Prison Barber Shop was located in the south wing of the basement in 1968 and the upper floors were converted to Detention Barracks and a Women’s Facility in the mid-1970s.  The USDB Medical and Dental Clinic continued to operate in the basement of the building until relocation of the USDB to the new facility in 2002.

The scope of work for this project was renovation of the prison hospital for use by the Civilian Education System (CES) – converting the building to classrooms and administration offices and upgrading the space to meet current life safety codes, seismic requirements and antiterrorism/force-protection standards.  Rehabilitation was the most appropriate preservation approach. 

Building 465 retained its original footprint and general plan configuration with a central corridor in the center section of the building that connects the north and south wings. Vertical circulation also maintained its original design with the original elevator and main stair extant.  With exception of the addition of modern fire escapes, the building retained its original entrances, including the front porch at the main building entrance and two rear porches.  Original windows and doors contributed significantly to the building’s portrayal of its original character. Original plaster walls and ceilings, including a cove molding on walls and ceilings and a molded frieze in the corridors, were intact on the building’s interior. Terrazzo stairs and flooring including a Red Cross emblem at the front entrances and checkerboard borders, and marble window sills and door thresholds conveyed a clear attention to detail in the original design of this utilitarian building.

Today, the former prison hospital features a state-of-the-art Information Technology facility in the basement which facilitates a virtual auditorium that can combine the building’s classrooms and connect them with off-site students and instructors.  The users enjoy unique classroom facilities that include windows (with black-out shades), a break room, porch, and rear courtyard for congregating outside the classroom.  The renovation included structural repairs, new plumbing and HVAC systems, new sprinkler and fire alarm systems, new ADA access and a new elevator (within the original shaft).  The building was brought up to current code and achieved LEED Gold Certification – the first rehabilitation project at Fort Leavenworth to do so.

Creative design solutions include the installation of blast-resistant storm windows between the original windows and the security bars to minimize the impact on building’s exterior appearance and preserve interior features including curved plaster window returns and marble sills.   The front porch was painstakingly disassembled and stabilized in order to restore the deteriorated concrete cornice and ceiling.  On the interior of the building, the team focused on preserving historic features and finishes in the primary public spaces of the building including the entrances, corridors, and stairways.  The structural reinforcements and new building systems were designed to have minimal impact on the public spaces so that the historic finishes including the plaster walls and ceilings, and the terrazzo floors, are preserved and remain exposed to public view. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Leavenworth, and the Army Management Staff College, who executes the CES for the Army, are all pleased with the result.  Reopened in May 2011 as a classroom facility for CES, the design accommodates 14 classrooms, a Network Operations Center, and ancillary spaces for the CES training requirements.  

The project began with full knowledge that the proposed improvements would likely have an adverse affect from a preservation perspective due primarily to the structural reinforcements necessary to meet seismic and force-protection requirements.  The design team and Fort Leavenworth officials worked closely with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to develop a design that would minimize and mitigate the affect of the structural upgrades and force-protection measures.  SHPO Review and Compliance Coordinator, Kim Gant summarized her thoughts on the project: 

“Fort Leavenworth, a National Historic Landmark District, is one of the most significant historic resources in Kansas and Building 465 is an integral part of the United States Disciplinary Barracks complex. One of the more difficult aspects of this project was merging the often-conflicting life-safety requirements with historic preservation. In order to meet the mission of the installation, some elements of the historic interior of Building 465 were sacrificed, but the design team understood the significance of the building and took extra care to ensure that the most significant character-defining features were preserved and restored including the original windows, terrazzo floors and plaster finishes in the central core. The exterior of the building was also significantly improved with the removal of modern intrusions and restoration of the masonry walls and original front porch.  Overall, this project was a very successful partnership between Fort Leavenworth, the State Historic Preservation Office, and the design team.”

In addition to a preservation-based design approach to the building, the project included development of USDB’s central green space which incorporated a system of interpretive plaques that convey the history of the USDB complex and its individual buildings.  The plaza provides a central green space that helps to visually tie the buildings within the walled compound and building occupants throughout the complex have developed an appreciation for the rich history of the site.  Rehabilitation of the former USDB Prison Hospital reflects a coordinated approach and new level of commitment to preservation among Army and Fort Leavenworth officials and stands as an outstanding example of a historic building meeting the needs of a modern Army.


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