Notes from New Orleans: Veterans Affairs Proposes Demolition of Building in CBD

Posted on: July 23rd, 2009 by Walter Gallas
The VA Medical Center in New Orleans.

The VA Medical Center in New Orleans.

Saying that it’s the only way to add closer-in laboratory facilities, a dental clinic, and sterile processing and distribution services, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing to demolish the five- story VA Building #2, which sits next to the VA Medical Center (VAMC) in New Orleans Central Business District. On the vacant land created by the demolition, VA would install two “mobile support units,” which would remain in place “for no more than five years while the replacement VAMC is built.”

As part of the review process, VA posted a “Site-Specific Environmental Assessment,” and Betsy Merritt and I, on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, submitted a comment letter as well as supplemental comments.  Among other things, we observed that the area around the current VA Medical Center contains numerous vacant lots already that could be used for the mobile units. In the vicinity, the state is adding to the inventory of vacant downtown land by completing the demolition of the State Office Building and former State Supreme Court building across from City Hall. A new state office building will not be built on the site.

VA Building #2, which they plan to demolish.

VA Building #2, which they plan to demolish.

VA Building #2, constructed in 1952, is one of fifteen buildings making up the New Orleans Medical Historic District. VA’s assessment minimized the impact on the district of the loss of this building. We observed that the loss was hardly insignificant, in a district of that size.

VA published responses to our comments this past week. In the response, VA supplied new information, saying that nationwide, the VA is under serious pressure to provide sterile instruments and sterile environments to its patients—and that the only way to do this would be to demolish Building #2 to create the space on which to place its sterile processing and distribution functions. Currently, these functions are served out of a suburban warehouse and within the existing VA clinic. Demolition, though, seems a radical solution to a systems problem.

VA also minimized the impact upon the medical historic district of this building’s demolition, saying it is not a “lynchpin element” in the district—a new standard never used before, and one I think someone just decided to create.

VA’s determination to demolish this building is striking. We will be responding to VA with further comments.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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