Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Kansas: Building Demolition and Cemetery Expansion at Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Leavenworth
Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- The proposed project may result in the demolition of 39 historic buildings at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the destruction of the archeological remains of a 19th-century mission and associated Indian cemetery (Criteria 1 and 4).
- The outcome of this consultation may set a precedent for the treatment of other vacant, underutilized, and excess buildings on Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers nationwide (Criterion 2).
- This proposed undertaking has generated widespread local interest (Criterion 3).
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has initiated monthly meetings to share developments with the numerous parties that have informed the VA of their interest in the proposed demolition of buildings and cemetery expansion at Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center. Several alternatives to avoid or minimize adverse effects to historic properties are under discussion.
Recently, medical center representatives acknowledged that they are working with VA headquarters to determine if some of the vacant buildings scheduled for demolition may qualify for the VA’s Enhanced Use Lease Program. The VA has also stated that it would consider relocating the expansion of the cemetery to former VA land currently owned by the City of Leavenworth, provided that the city officially offered to return the land to the VA.
Following the January meeting of the consulting parties, the Kansas State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) conducted an extensive record search and determined that the site of the circa 1844 Stockbridge Baptist Mission and associated Indian cemetery is located in an area that would be affected by the proposed cemetery expansion. The SHPO has provided the VA with this information and requested that the VA renew its efforts to contact the Indian tribes that may have concerns about treatment of this site.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center at Leavenworth was originally constructed in the 1880s as the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The contractor for much of the early construction was James A. McGonigle, a prominent local builder who is also known for his projects at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and his work for the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey restaurants. The complex’s chapel, dating from 1893, was designed by the influential Kansas City architect, Lewis Curtiss. The medical center complex and the adjoining National Cemetery are listed on the National Register.
Many of the complex’s original buildings remain; however, the VA maintains that their design prevents their adaptation to meet current patient needs. Most of these buildings are vacant or underutilized. The VA asserts that minimal maintenance of the numerous properties costs at least $100,000 a year and that these monies reduce the facility’s yearly budget for patient care.
The Council has been concerned about use and maintenance issues at the Medical Center since the 1980s when Section 106 consultation for the proposed demolition of the Ward Memorial Building, Building 29, led to issuance of formal Council comments.
Ward Memorial Building, Leavenworth, Kansas
As a result of those comments, Building 29 was not demolished, although little has been done to arrest its deterioration and it remains vacant. In an effort to better integrate historic preservation into facility planning, the VA developed an historic preservation plan for the medical center complex in 1993.
The VA is now proposing to demolish 39 buildings within the historic district to permit expansion of the cemetery and to remove vacant or underutilized structures. Eighteen of the buildings are located on land determined suitable for cemetery expansion which would be transferred to the National Cemetery Service to create approximately 15,000 gravesites and 1,500 columbarium niches for cremated remains. The VA currently has $5 million budgeted for the proposed demolition and is concerned about losing these monies if no action is taken.
The project is expected to be controversial, with disagreements between veterans groups who strongly support the expansion of the cemetery and other local groups who want to identify alternative uses for the significant historic buildings.
The Council is concerned about the neglect of historic properties at numerous VA facilities throughout the country. This consultation may set a model if VA’s Enhanced Use Lease Program can be used effectively to identify public-private partnerships that result in viable alternative uses of these properties.
Staff contact: Lee Keatinge
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