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Preserving Our Military Past: The Army’s Historic Properties Initiative 

12-09-2015 17:35

The theme for the 1999 National Preservation Conference, “Saving America’s Treasures,” highlights what preservation is about—developing successful programs and initiatives that not only save our historic treasures but also revitalize our communities across the nation. That is part of the Army’s mission too. For we recognize that the Army post is not solely a platform from which to project military power, but the place in which soldiers and their families live and work. If we are to recruit the best professional soldiers, we must retain them and their families by providing attractive, functional —and often historic—communities.

The Army manages one of the nation’s largest portfolios of historic properties, including 12 National Historic Landmarks—such as Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Fort Monroe in Virginia, Fort McPherson in Georgia, and West Point—and 12,000 properties that are listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. During the next 30 years, more than 70,000 additional buildings on Army posts will reach 50 years of age and will need to be evaluated for historic significance in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act. These properties cover a broad spectrum of historic eras, architectural styles, building types, and land uses. More than bricks and mortar—these sites are an important part of our national heritage, telling the story of America, one Army post at a time. They help the Army to recall the rich legacy of our great nation, and we must ensure that our significant properties are preserved to inspire tomorrow’s generations.

The sheer scale and diversity of this portfolio poses a daunting challenge to all who are actively involved in the Army’s installation management programs. But its scale and diversity also present an extraordinary opportunity for finding creative ways to reuse old buildings and to capitalize our real estate.

Your Army is an institution deeply rooted in history and proud of its heritage. The Army, however, is faced with the unique challenge of performing a mission that seems, at times, at odds with the basic precepts of preservation. We prepare soldiers to fight and defend this nation now and for the 21st century, using the best of modern equipment and training methods, technology, and business practices. And yet we rely on elements of our heritage—our buildings—to ground us. Our core values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honesty, integrity, personal courage—are reinforced by the sense of order, the textures and materials, and the beauty and serenity that are reflected in the layouts and buildings of our posts. As Winston Churchill once observed, “We shape our buildings and they shape us.”

So it is essential for the Army to recognize the place that many of our historic buildings hold, preserving and improving them through continued use to meet our mission requirements, to enhance training, and to improve the quality of life for soldiers, civilians, and their families.

To improve how the Army utilizes historic properties, and how it disposes of them when they are no longer needed, the Army is focusing on the policies and processes of historic preservation. It is moving beyond compliance to pursue bolder stewardship and management initiatives in adapting and reusing historic properties for current and future needs.

To spearhead the process of change, we have established an Office of Historic Properties and launched the Army’s Historic Properties Initiative. Its mission is to design and institutionalize a historic properties program that draws from the best ideas and experiences of public and private enterprise to increase the viability of our historic properties and ensure Army-wide implementation.

The focal point of this initiative—in fact, the means to our desired end—is partnership. Historic preservation in America always has been a public-private partnership—strengthened by alliances with the National Trust and its many affiliated preservation groups. The Army too relies on partnerships to preserve our common heritage, tailoring successful preservation programs from both the public and private sectors for application within the Army.

We want to expand our partnerships with the national preservation movement. As one major step, we have recently established a cooperative agreement with the National Trust, which will undertake pilot projects at five of our most important historic posts. And the Trust will oversee a major study on how we might recapitalize the Army’s historic property inventory so we can preserve, and adapt, and sustain it.

We are also supporting the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and hosted its recent meetings at Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. And we are open to working with local and state groups whenever they and we have a shared purpose.

Our new Office of Historic Properties will explore the applicability of financing and technical tools available in the private sector to leverage scarce Army resources. As our program matures, we will seek other public and private sector partners to address specific Army preservation needs, and work to improve the administration and financing of Army historic properties. We’ll also increase our efforts to consider partnering arrangements, joint use, and outside sponsorship to preserve the Army’s and the nation’s heritage at reduced costs.

We have also recently launched a new program to recognize significant improvements through the Army’s Historic Properties Initiative: the Secretary of the Army Awards for Historic Preservation. This awards program is designed to recognize excellence in all aspects of managing historic buildings and districts located on active Army posts in the United States.

There are four categories for these awards: Historic Districts, Historic Buildings, Innovations, and Partnerships.

Historic District awards will be presented to U.S. Army garrisons for excellence in restoration and rehabilitation of historic districts and historic building complexes. These projects will include exterior and interior features, adaptive use, landscape re-design, and maintenance of the open spaces in the district or building complex.

Historic Building awards will be presented to Army garrisons and other commands at any level for excellence in rehabilitation of specific historic buildings. Our main considerations are exterior and interior features and imaginative, economical conversions to accommodate current needs.

Awards for Innovations will go to individuals and small teams who have found ways to reduce the Army’s cost, or improve our techniques, for adapting historic buildings for contemporary uses.

And finally, the awards for Partnerships will be presented jointly to Army installations and “partner” organizations outside the Army for excellence in establishing and sustaining joint programs. I hope these “partnership” awards ultimately will go to many state and local preservation groups.

A new emblem designed by the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry will commemorate the awards. Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera and I look forward to presenting the first of these awards here in Washington during National Preservation Week in May.

Publication Date: Winter 2000


Author(s):Mahlon Apgar, IV

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