The U.S. National Fire Protection Association reported one structure fire every minute in 2015, with over 19,000 deaths and injuries and $14.3B in property loss. In Vermont, fire has damaged and destroyed numerous landmark buildings over the past several years. How can stewards of historic commercial and public buildings avoid having their properties become part of these sobering statistics?
by Meg Campbell
Whether you are new to preservation or a seasoned veteran, the following questions and resources will help you better understand your project and work effectively to restore it for years of future use.
What’s the Story?
Every old building has a story to tell, a story that will be repeated many many times through the process of fixing a building up. Understanding the history and significance of your building will help you talk about it, share you enthusiasm with others in your community, and make plans for future steps.
The first place to start is the On-Line Resource Center at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. In addition to the Vermont State Register of Historic Places (significant historic and prehistoric resources throughout Vermont) and the National Register of Historic Places (the official federal listing of significant historic, architectural, and archaeological resources), the On-Line Resource Center has preservation reviews, transportation reviews and other information related to historic properties in Vermont.
Next stop: your local public library. In addition to local history, many libraries keep hard copies of the Vermont State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places for your community. If you can’t find them there, they may also have copies in your town offices.
Another place to gather information is from your local historical society. Depending on your community, you may find a myriad of resources that will help you put together the history of the building, including local written histories, historic photographs, newspaper articles, oral histories and more.
If you are feeling ambitious, you could also take a trip to the Montpelier/Barre area. At the Vermont History Center Library in Barre, you can find all kinds of written histories, out-of-print books, files, photographs, documents and more related to your town. You can search some of their online resources from the comfort of your own computer.
What’s the Condition?
Determining the condition of the building is the first step towards complete rehabilitation.
A good conditions assessment of a historic building is prepared by a professional who is familiar with the issues faced by old buildings, has a handle on historic materials and how they were used, and can estimate costs for and prioritize sympathetic repairs to deteriorated areas.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont connects communities with preservation professionals who can help do assessments. The Robert Sincerbeaux Fund, a small matching grant program administered by the Preservation Trust, can help defray the costs of doing an assessment. Please be in touch with one of our Field Service Representatives if you’d like to learn more.
What’s the Plan?
Before a full treatment of the building can be articulated, you need to know what the plan for the building is. Will the church be used as a community center? Will the 19th century industrial building be used as an art studio? Will the historic store reopen as a store?
You should develop a short, no more than 1-page case statement about what you’re trying to do and why. In it you might want to include a photographs or two, something about the building’s history, it’s importance, how you envision the building will be used and by whom, and what the rehabilitated building will mean to the community.
Contact those people who are or could be partners. First contact should probably be a conversation about the project exploring common interests and building support. Stakeholders might include selectboard members, legislators, neighbors, historical society, community clubs, the library, or residents at-large using whatever forum you can find.
Identify resource people within the community who can help with in-kind and professional expertise and begin a conversation with them. This might formalize into actual subcommittees. Some of the skills include construction project manager, business project manager, fundraiser, grant writer, communications person, trades people.
You may also want to attend one of the Trust’s Preservation Retreats at the Grand Isle Lake House. Here you can meet with other community groups from around Vermont who are involved in similar (and radically different!) projects as well as staff and other professionals. You will invariably walk away newly charged with information and inspiration!
Additionally, consider attending one of PTV’s annual Preservation Conferences. Here you can gather information, meet people, attend educational workshops, and get inspired to get your project off the ground.
What’s the Treatment?
Knowing what you are going to do with the building determines the treatment of the building.
Good preservation includes preserving those character-defining features that give your building its uniqueness, while also incorporating sensitive changes that make the building usable in the 21st century. The Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation, a set of national preservation standards, should be your guidelines for treatment.
Getting a treatment plan and complete estimate of the work is very important, as is a plan for phasing the work over time. Having a document like this will break down an overwhelming project into smaller pieces and is essential for your fundraising plans. Our Field Service Representatives can help you locate a preservation builder or architect to help you do the work. The Preservation Education Institute in Windsor, VT also maintains a list of preservation professionals you may find useful.
In Vermont, some of the “hot” preservation treatment issues include windows, siding, insulation, new additions to old buildings, substitute materials, and green preservation. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the recommended preservation treatments and background information for these topics which invariable arise to some degree with most preservation projects.
Where’s the Money?
The first step should be to meet with one of the Preservation Trust’s Field Service Representative who can help explain how the complete fundraising picture might look — money on hand, fundraising activities, a local campaign, grants, direct asking, and more.
In order to be eligible for most grant funding, you’ll need to have gained non-profit status. The Secretary of State has good online instructions to get you started.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont has several different grant programs for preservation projects. Other private, state and federal funding sources may be applicable, depending on the nature of your project and availability of funds. Another essential resource is the Vermont Directory of Foundations.
If you are not a non-profit, there are several tax credit programs that might be of interest, including the federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. An equivalent state credit is also available.
As you progress with your project plans, you might want to take a road trip to other Vermont communities to find out what they have done and how they put the project together. One of our Field Service Representatives can help get you connected.
Let’s Get Started!
If you’ve gotten this far, it’s time to print out this page! You might also want to check out 10 Tips for Managing a Preservation Project. After you do that, you can contact one of our Field Service Representatives to help you along with the process!o be copied from old site)