V.A. Building 9 to Be Restored as Mental Health Facility

This photo of the front exterior of V.A. Building #9 taken in 2011 shows many holes in the roof and broken windows. (Photo by Mark-Ellis Bennett)

A happy ending is within sight in the tale of two sisters on the Veterans Administration campus.

Designed by the Veterans Bureau in 1929 and completed in 1932, the twin nurses dormitory buildings on Riceville Road in east Asheville had badly deteriorated for several decades, their magnificent frames staunchly resisting collapse.

The building on the north side was originally the dormitory for African-American nurses. The V.A. abandoned it in the 1970s before the property was transferred from federal ownership to the state, and Western Carolina University took up residence. 

In 1978 the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, now called the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR), established its western office in space leased from the university. In 1991, the western office was moved to Arden where they remained for two years before relocating to what was formerly part of the Clarence Barker Memorial Hospital in Biltmore Village. In 2011, after 17 and a half years, the office came full circle and returned to the same building, newly restored at the V.A. campus.

Finally, the 27,478 square foot south dormitory building, also called “V.A. Building #9,” is undergoing its restoration.

MSK Construction of Charleston, South Carolina, is the contractor. MSK superintendent Toney D. Higgins said the building is being rehabilitated to become a mental health facility for veterans.

NCDNCR archivist Heather South speaks highly of the contractor and said “they have been wonderful, working closely with the state’s restoration and preservation specialist, Jennifer Cathey. The new slate used to restore the roof is the same kind originally used, and the exterior paint colors will be a perfect match.”

Higgens said the rehabilitation is close to 20 percent complete.

“It took us three and a half months to remove all the asbestos and lead paint. Now we’re working on the framing, stud walls for the first and second floors, and laying cinder block for the elevator shaft,” Higgins said.

Fire sprinkler heads, HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems are soon to follow. The new windows will look identical to the originals.

“It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, so we’re duplicating everything as close as possible and reapplying original wooden trim inside. The project is expected to be finished this December,” Higgins said.

V.A. public affairs officer Armenthis Lester said she’s really excited not only that the building will soon reopen, but that it will enhance mental care access to veterans in Western North Carolina.

“When open, it will be located near our other mental health facilities on campus. This will optimize convenience for the veterans, and improve our already high-level patient satisfaction,” Lester said.

By Mark-Ellis Bennett