KTVH.com

New project aims to resurrect historic, empty buildings for housing at Fort Harrison

HELENA – On the campus of Montana VA Healthcare System at Fort Harrison sit a number of empty buildings, including the former hospital and several stately homes.

In recent years their future has been unknown, but long-brewing plans look to ensure that they are given a new life that will help improve the lives of those who have served our country through a project called Freedom’s Path.

“It’s a really exciting project,” said Montana VA Healthcare Facility Planner Theresa Bell. “One to two bedroom units, for supportive housing for homeless veterans.  So they’ll have resources not only in the housing program, but in this case, really close, so they’ll have medical care, mental health care and social services available to them.”

Bell has been involved with this project since it first began almost 10 years ago.  The goal is to create housing for veterans and their families out of historic officers’ quarters and the former hospital.  The buildings involved in Freedom’s Path date back to the late 1800’s.  When it’s all said and done, there will be 42 new residential units with housing for almost 100 veterans and their families.

Historic Architecture Officer Pete Brown of the Montana Historical Society is helping move the project along by assisting the contractor in getting a federal historic tax credit.

“The main things I do is to work with the architect so that the choices they’re making adhere to those standards and the intent there is to get those historic buildings to retain their historic identity while functioning for continued use,” explained Brown.

The tax credit will help a long-dreamed project become reality, giving new purpose to buildings that would otherwise stand useless.

“(It) sort of levels the playing field to make historic preservation a bit more cost competitive with new construction,” said Brown.  “And preservation is just a great way to preserve historic buildings, but it also has some environmental benefits since we’re reusing the embodied energy of all those bricks, all the stone, all that wood that were put up in 1895.”

And helping veterans who are homeless, or at-risk of homelessness, and their families.

“Having that option to have permanent housing that’s supported and can help them get on their feet and stay on their feet, that’s a huge benefit to veterans,” said Bell.

Officials hope to break ground on Freedom’s Path just after the start of the new year.

Brown says the historic rehab tax credit being used on the Freedom’s Path project could be eliminated in the current tax reform proposal being considered by Congress.

He is hopeful that if the tax is not saved from the chopping block, that the project could still be grandfathered in.