Written by Rick Kready and Amy Cole
At the Eisenhower Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kansas, the Pioneer Group reached a milestone this month with the grand re-opening of the former VA Mess Hall. When the VA campus was listed as one of the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2000, the Mess Hall was a key building that was vacant, deteriorated and without a clear reuse. The Pioneer Group of Topeka has a 75 year lease for 38 buildings on the campus and has been working on rehabilitation of those buildings over the past several years. The completion of this landmark is the largest building reused to date.
The historic brick Mess Hall included a large kitchen, dining area and voluminous ballroom space in 60,000 square feet. Prominently sited on a hill and surrounded by domiciliaries where veterans once lived, the Mess Hall was a key component to successful redevelopment of the site. The Pioneer Group worked to find a tenant who will use the building to house 400 workers doing medical accounting, a complimentary use to the still-functioning VA activities which also take place on the campus.
Following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and enabling the use of both the state and federal historic preservation tax credits, Treanor Architects of Topeka designed the rehabilitation of the dining hall and ballroom for office uses while retaining historic features such as the stage and metal support columns. Additionally, the incompatible two-story porch infill was removed and returned to its historic appearance and will serve as pleasant space for the employee break room. Windows were uncovered and repaired and drop ceilings removed, providing the office space with great natural light.
The next steps for the ongoing work at the VA include continuing to seek tenants for other campus buildings and adaptively rehabilitating those buildings for office space, classrooms and residential uses. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the former Mess Hall will be held on August 31 and participants will include Governor Brownback, U.S. Senator Roberts and others.
Amy Cole is the Senior Program Officer and Regional Attorney in the Mountains/Plains Office of the National Trust who works in Kansas.
Rick Kready is the Vice President for Operations at the Pioneer Group.