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Fort Missoula treatment center spooks some

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A grassroots group called Save the Fort says that clients of a proposed Western Montana Mental Health Center addiction treatment facility at Fort Missoula could threaten the integrity of the historic site. "The element of risk will be enhanced," says Tate Jones, who's working with Save the Fort to stop the project.

The Western Montana Mental Health Center is hoping to renovate the old Fort Missoula hospital so it can accommodate roughly 40 adults for up to 45 days of addiction treatment. It's asking the Historic Preservation Commission for a preservation permit based on the center's renovation plan for the old hospital. The permit would constitute a first step toward getting the treatment center off the ground.

Jones, who serves as executive director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, says throughout the past several years, a significant amount of preservation work has gone into rehabilitating the historic site. "It's become a very respectable historic park," he says. "It's unprecedented to do social services in a historic park. It's just simply not done."

The Mental Health Center's development director, Patty Kent, says the program is voluntary and not administered through the criminal justice system. There's no reason to suspect that people who are voluntarily treating chemical addictions will harm historic properties, she says. "The idea that addicts are all criminals is just plain old wrong." In fact, Kent says, recent data show that the largest segment of people seeking treatment are middle-aged women addicted to prescription drugs.

The need for treatment facilities like the one planned for Fort Missoula is currently so acute that locals travel to treatment centers hundreds of miles away, Kent says. "The need is staggering."

Even with the commission's approval, the Fort Missoula project won't become a reality for years. The Mental Health Center is first focusing its energy—and fundraising efforts—on a planned 16-bed inpatient treatment center slated for a site at the intersection of California and Wyoming streets.

Kent says the center will evaluate that project, which is due to open in the spring of 2013, before moving forward with fundraising for the Fort Missoula project. "Then and only then would we look to a larger facility at Fort Missoula."

The Historic Preservation Commission will discuss the proposal during its regularly scheduled meeting April 5.

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