VA Mess Hall

Project: Building 19 – The Old Mess Hall on the Veterans Administration Campus, Leavenworth, Kansas
Client: Pioneer Group, Inc., Topeka
Team: Treanor Architects; Straub Construction
Services by Spencer Preservation: Application for Federal and State Historic Tax Credits
Investment: $13 million
Recognition: 2011 J. Timothy Anderson Awards for Excellence in Historic Rehabilitation
2012 Palladio Award (Traditional Building Magazine)
2012 Kansas Preservation Alliance Award of Excellence
2012 Richard H. Driehaus National Preservation Award

Building 19, the former Mess Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the historic district - "Western Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers."  

"The 213.97-acre site is characterized by rolling terrain, tree-dotted lawns, a man-made lake, and curving roads. … The original site plan … is thought to have been the design of landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland. … the design incorporates the natural north-south ridge as the long spine of a roughly C-shape layout of roads and buildings. Franklin Avenue (originally called Front Street) and a secondary road, Back Street, follow the ridge. … The domiciliaries (and other buildings) are oriented east-west, perpendicular to the ridge, making maximum use of the linear site and taking advantage of breezes and vistas."

The VA Leavenworth campus began construction in 1885. By 1890, approximately 40 buildings were erected and comprised a coherent planned community for Civil War veterans, similar to other branches of the National Home. The campus included barracks, mess hall and kitchen, administration building, staff housing, chapel, hospital, amusement halls, quarters, shops, laundry, stable, greenhouses, agricultural buildings, and other facilities. In 1930, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was incorporated into the newly created Veterans Administration, and this property was designated a VA Medical Center. Since that change, medical programs predominated, rather than home programs.

In 1995, a new domiciliary building was built on the Leavenworth campus, and a majority of the old barracks, mess hall, and other supporting facilities were vacated. With the vacated buildings no longer used to support the medical center’s mission, they became available for adaptive reuse and redevelopment to serve new purposes

The VA had determined they no longer needed 38 buildings on the Leavenworth VA campus, and were considering demolishing those buildings. In 2005, rather than tearing the buildings down, the VA entered into a 75-year Enhanced Use Lease with Eisenhower Ridge Association that provided for both preservation and development of the 38 buildings and 52 acres included in the lease. This project demonstrates an opportunity to renovate one of those buildings again to serve the VA, and thereby allow the VA employees to be located immediately adjacent to, and with ready access to, the rest of the VA functions in Leavenworth.  The Consolidated Patient Account Center (CPAC) was a new initiative by the VA’s Chief Business Office to improve revenue collections within the Veterans Health Administration. CPAC establishes an industry-modeled, regionalized billing and collection system.

Once used to serve meals to disabled veterans, Leavenworth Building 19 now houses a new VA medical records office that brought 400 jobs to town.  The old mess hall on the first floor and ballroom on the upper floor, were comprised of large open rooms – historically serving over 2,000 veterans three meals per day.  The open plan configuration was a natural fit for the CPAC offices where modular office cubicles accommodate 400 employees on three floors.  The mess hall and ballroom had wonderful design features and details that were incorporated into the new use providing a pleasant office environment.

Spencer worked with the team, and served as a liaison with the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service to successfully apply for federal and state historic tax credits.


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