LBWA–Preserving History

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.   

Photo Courtesy Of Carol Highsmith

Photo Courtesy Of Carol Highsmith

To an architect, historic preservation can mean upholding historically accurate designs and materials; to a building conservator, it might translate into securing period-correct furnishings and appointments; but to parks and rec professionals responsible for maintenance in historic facilities, it can mean adopting a whole new—or sometimes old—set of priorities. 

At the national, state, and even metropolitan-community level, preservation organizations often emerge to protect historic resources. But in smaller communities across the country, by default, the task of caring for the resources falls to the parks and rec department because it is often the agency within the governmental administrative structure whose mission and structure most closely align with the need. 

But many departments—especially those in small- to mid-sized communities—aren’t necessarily capable of the special care and maintenance that truly historic buildings and facilities require, or for that matter know whether or not a building or site should be considered for preservation. When this situation arises, information is the first order of business. 

What Makes A Building Historic

“The important thing for someone who has inherited such a resource is to educate themselves about what makes it significant, what features of the building make it worth saving,” recommends Barry Loveland, Chief of the Division of Architecture and Conservation, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (  

“Look for local sources of information about the building or site, such as a local historian or historical society, or other records that might exist in the community.” He notes that every state has a historical society that may help directly, or connect information seekers to national-level resources. 

“State offices work through the federal government programs for listing properties on the national register,” Loveland states. “This may help them determine what might be significant about the property, and what features are important.” 

Merely because a site is old doesn’t necessarily mean it has historical value, or that its historic value outweighs the cost of maintaining it. Loveland notes that the minimum age for something to be considered “historic” is generally 50 years; but at some point, no matter the age, the decision whether or not to preserve it as a local historical resource involves a broader range of decision points.

“Once it looks like a department is going beyond their time or expertise, it may be advisable to get someone involved who can put together specs and a scope of work that is necessary,” Loveland points out. Once the requirements are articulated, there may be justification to bid out work to a qualified contractor. 

The field of qualified contractors for historical sites will probably be narrower than normal, Loveland cautions. “It’s going to be a bit more difficult to find them because they are fewer, and you may need to do a lot more searching. This usually means the cost is higher, partially due to the specialized expertise and because some of the material costs will be higher,” he notes.

A Building With A Purpose

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