Traditional Building Portfolio




Preservation Trades Education

"Training for jobs you can't outsource."

By Gordon Bock

Where do you go to learn about rehabilitating historic buildings – not solely through theory and CAD software, but by getting your hands on the actual materials and tools? When Traditional Building first reported on education in preservation trades back in 2005, the list was four pioneering programs – a small but encouraging number for a field where hands-on learning had always been next to nil. Six years later we've decided to survey the landscape again and found some surprising growth and changes.

As before, preservation education at the undergrad and trades level remains spotty and tremendously varied, partly because each program is a product of the population and region it serves. Enrollments still run from 15 to 40 students per program, depending upon the age and focus. Also we have listed only programs that run for a year or more, to distinguish them from the many workshops and short courses of weekend - or week-long duration (see sidebar) that are good for material- or problem-specific education, such as historic window repair, but not designed for a broader scope.

What is Preservation Trades Education?
Before looking at where to get preservation trades education, it's helpful to ask, "What is a preservation trade?" In building construction the term trade typically connotes an occupation requiring manual or mechanical skill. In the high-tech 21st century, however, where "hand tools" run on batteries and lasers, and computers come into play in ever more processes, manual or mechanical is a lot mushier a concept than it once was, to the point that people like Barry Loveland of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission say a preservation trade is "Whatever collection of trades and skills are needed to maintain and preserve an historic building."

What's more, preservation trades are not new construction – a process reduced to the assembly and installation of standardized building elements. "When dealing with existing structures," notes J. Bryan Blundell, past managing director of the Preservation Trades Network (PTN), "workers need knowledge of traditional and even obsolete materials and techniques, as well as an understanding of the interrelationships between building components." This includes identifying and correcting problems during the construction process, knowledge that can't be learned solely by either book-learning or on-the-job training.

Blundell proposes that the ideal education is a matrix composed of three main categories: (1) academic – history, math, sciences, etc., taught in a classroom (and now Internet) setting; (2) vocational – skills, tool usage, and processes learned in a hands-on or structured job setting; (3) experiential – real-world projects that round out the academic and vocational learning.

"For the most part, the buildings we are preserving were built when people still knew how to make things by hand, the skills of 'traditional trades,'" adds Rudy Christian, executive director of PTN. "Those are the trades that we stopped teaching in the 20th century and that we need to start teaching again." While the proportions vary, most venues and programs that aspire to offer preservation trades education try to hit all of these bases.

The programs noted in 2005 are among a group still running strong for 20 years or more.

Belmont College, St. Clairsville, OH
Widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the field, Belmont College has been offering an Associate of Applied Science in Building Preservation/Restoration since 1989. According to creator and director David R. Mertz, Belmont had an existing mining program that was in decline along with the old rust-belt industries on the nearby Ohio/Pennsylvania border. "As a replacement, the president of the school at the time wanted to 'do something unique,'" recalls Mertz, "and he came up with the preservation program." By good fortune, the new program was also able to take over a school mining lab that was being phased out, as well as capitalize on some state funding.

Belmont students graduate not only with a two-year liberal arts degree (on which they can build further education), but, more importantly, a broad knowledge of historic buildings that emphasizes hands-on education. Courses cover "the fundamentals of most of the basic trades," from masonry and plaster to carpentry, as well as the underlying background from history and preservation theory to the science of building structures, giving students a broad understanding of preservation and the skills to perform "basically as preservation technicians," according to Mertz.

As Mertz notes, "Education is ongoing," and Belmont strives to "find out where their interests lie, then embed them in jobs and programs where they can further their education and experience in a specific direction." One graduate, for example, went on to specialize in historic masonry at the National Park Service training center in Frederick, MD. "Others may plan to go into a desk job," says Mertz, "but still want to get a background in how buildings are actually built." One of Belmont's strengths is the school's 20-year history and the number of graduates it has put into the field. "The alumni network is very beneficial for any graduate entering the workforce," says Mertz.

College of Redwoods, Eureka, CA
Perhaps the left-coast equivalent of Belmont is the Historic Preservation & Restoration Technology program at College of the Redwoods. Begun in 1995 as a one-year certificate by Bill Hole, professor of Construction and Historic Preservation Technologies, the program kept adding courses until it could offer an Associate of Science degree in 2002, so that students can now choose either the two-year degree track, a one-year certificate, or just take individual courses.

Notes Hole, "Students participating in this program receive hands-on instruction in woodworking, millwork, use of digital technology in the industry, cost analysis, historic building codes, and traditional trades history and tool use." He adds that graduates find employment as building and preservation specialists, working in trades like carpentry, plaster restoration, stained glass, and woodworking, and as consultants who research and document existing and historic buildings. Most students are employed part-time in building construction or historic preservation while they are attending classes.

American College of the Building Arts, Charleston, SC
Born in reaction to 1989 Hurricane Hugo, which left the damaged city woefully short of local craftspeople to make repairs, the American College of the Building Arts offers a four-year program with degrees in six building arts – stone, iron, masonry, timber framing, carpentry and plaster – as well as an Associates of Applied Science (AAS).

The Bachelors program, which graduated its first class in 2004, is based on a liberal arts curriculum, combining 87 credit hours in general education (such as literature and foreign languages) with 47 credit hours in trade classes. In addition, students going for a four-year degree are required to complete three eight-week internships in their chosen trade area. The Associates program is basically the first two years of the Bachelors program and is designed for students who desire to either go into employment after graduation or attend another school.

North Bennet Street School, Boston, MA
One of the earliest preservation trades programs is found at one of the oldest craft and trade schools in America: the North Bennet Street School in Boston's North End. Founded in 1885 as an industrial arts school based on the Sloyd method – the progressive Swedish craft system developed at the turn of the century for training young minds and character through the use of their hands – NBSS began its Preservation Carpentry program in 1987 as an addition to its other established courses, such as cabinet- and furniture-making, piano technology and bookbinding. The program has grown and now shares a large, light-filled shop space with the carpentry program in the nearby suburb of Arlington.

Recently, the program teamed with Historic Boston Inc. in a partnership where NBSS students work on vintage buildings, repairing and upgrading them, and then putting them up for sale. According to Nancy Jenner, director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, "There is an on-going relationship with the Shaker Museum in Mount Lebanon, New York, working on their early structures."

Preservation Carpentry is a two-year program that often includes a summer internship. It's very hands-on in both the classroom and on-site, with students learning traditional skills with power as well as hand tools but there's also lots of problem-solving. Fundamentals, such as basic math, architectural drawing, and understanding building codes, are also part of the curriculum. The 20 or so students in each class vary in background and age, and, adds Jenner "there are both men and women in the program."

Graduates receive a certificate from NBSS and often go on to work at organizations like Historic New England (stewards of over 36 properties), the National Park Service, or go into business for themselves.

Bucks County Community College, Newtown, PA
Not to be overlooked among the longer-running programs is the two-year Historic Preservation Certificate Program begun in 1991 at Bucks County Community College outside of Philadelphia. According to coordinator Patricia Fisher-Olsen, the program attracts no "typical" student. Many are professionals already out in the field – architects, for example – who are looking to advance or augment their knowledge of preservation and historic buildings, but there are also a lot of local homeowner interested in their own buildings or communities.

"We get a lot folks looking for a mid-career change," says Fisher-Olsen, "for instance, IT people who are attracted to the real world of historic buildings." While the 24-credit program equips many students for advocacy roles in preservation, it also offers hands-on training through workshops, such as the one in HABS documentation where students have prepared award-winning measured drawings. Students also obtain hands-on experience through internships, which are required for completion of the certificate. For those not in the area, BCCC also offers the only program of its kind that's totally online.

Though several preservation trades education venues have come and gone since the first flush of programs in the early 1990s, the 2010s have inspired another wave of start-ups.

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, Lancaster, PA
What makes the new Preservation Trades Technology program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology both logical and promising is that it comes out of a school whose mission is hands-on education. Founded in 1905 and named for the progressive 19th-century politician and philanthropist, the college, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, had well- established two-year programs in building construction technology.

In 2008, it began expanding into preservation trades as a joint effort with the 1772 Foundation (which supports targeted restoration and agricultural projects) and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Part of the distinctive thrust of the new program is its view of enrollment. "We've chosen to focus on incumbents," says Advisory Board chair Barry Loveland of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, "that is, someone already working in a trade, such as carpentry."

A good example is a plasterer who wants to get into carpentry. "Courses are geared towards people who already have some knowledge of building construction, but want to learn more to 'do it right' for historic houses, or expand into work on historic buildings," adds Mark Borger, director of Workforce Development and a manager at the school. Some attendees are also savvy old-house owners who, while they may not intend to do the work themselves, want to know how work should be done so that they can hire and supervise knowledgeable contractors.

The program, which is still in its first full year, is offering 13 courses in preservation trades technology. The goal is to offer subjects in a broad range, for example, three courses in masonry: mortar in preservation; masonry repair, and masonry cleaning. Similar courses on the horizon with an old-new focus are thermal retrofitting of historic buildings; paint in historic buildings, and hazardous materials (lead, radon and asbestos). The TSTC program is so new that there has yet to be a full class cycle, but some students who have taken two or three courses have found benefits for jobs they already hold. "One student was able to get new work based upon his TSTC training," says Loveland.

Edgcombe Community College, Tarboro, NC
The year 2008 was also when Edgecombe Community College responded to another need with its Historic Preservation Technology program. "Our campus is based in Northeastern North Carolina, an area rich in historic properties," says director Monika Fleming, "and our focus is on teaching the hands-on skills – carpentry, masonry and roofing – needed to repair and restore old buildings." Interest has caused the school to expand beyond the initial certificate program (180 hours of instruction) to also offer a one-year diploma and two-year AAS degree.

Edgecombe's aim is to train people to go to work in the field. "Our students visit historic buildings, photograph them, research them, and work on them under the guidance of expert crafts people who have experience with historic construction methods," says Fleming. Of the 76 curriculum hours required for the degree, over 45 hours are in lab/work situations. These may be projects like rehabilitating the local historic Rosenwald African-American School, or working on a 19th-century farmhouse that was relocated to the campus.

Savannah Technical College, Savannah, GA
Another welcome "new kid on the block" is the Historic Preservation and Restoration Technician program at Savannah Technical College. The college, which has long offered degrees, diplomas and certificates in technical and adult education fields, first moved into preservation in 2008 with a certificate program. "The college received a federal grant for job training," explains instructor Stephen Hartley, "that was specifically earmarked to fill Savannah's growing need for historic building craftspeople."

The program, which offers courses in carpentry and field techniques as well as preservation and restoration theory, enjoyed such robust enrollment that it was expanded to a two-year AAS degree in 2009. Along with classes, students work on actual historic sites, such as on nearby Tybee Island, as well as downtown Savannah. "With many neighborhoods in need of revitalization," says Hartley, "we have a living laboratory here."

Snow College, Ephraim, UT
Programs that start with certificates but expand into two-year degrees represent a trend of sorts, and a good example is the Traditional Building Skills Institute at Snow College. The institute began in 1996 by offering three-day, hands-on workshops in a broad variety of traditional skills with a very specific – and familiar – purpose. According to director Woody Challis, "When the governor's mansion suffered an extensive fire, they had to look beyond Utah to find craftspeople who could restore it to original condition, so the workshops were started to help the state use local Utah artisans, such as woodcarvers."

The present workshop program, which is designed for architects, builders, contractors, trades people, students, educators and homeowners, runs from artisanal crafts like tile-painting and blacksmithing to building- and preservation-specific topics such as adobe restoration, historic masonry and decorative plaster. The college recently enhanced the program to an AAS degree level by adding historic preservation courses, business courses and general construction courses.

Student enrollment is varied, with people of different ages and experience working side-by-side. "A number of town and city jurisdictions will send individuals to workshops – say on gravestone restoration and preservation," says Challis. The college is now also offering a study abroad session at a historic 13th-century castle in Wales.

Colorado Mountain College, Leadville, CO
Right from the program's inception in 2006, Colorado Mountain College has offered both certificates and AAS degrees in Historic Preservation. Putting an "emphasis on experiential learning," the curriculum covers fields from historic building technology and preservation trades to masonry and historic metals with multiple courses in each track. According to director Townsend Anderson, "Our program addresses a woeful gap in the construction business – an understanding of and sensitivity to historic buildings and historic building fabric." As a core part of the program, students get to apply what they learn by working on the historic buildings in Leadville's National Historic Landmark District and at the nearby historic Hayden Ranch, which is owned by the college.

The Timber Framers Guild, Amherst, NH
The Timber Framers Guild, a 501-C3 educational association formed in 1985 for this multi-disciplinary carpentry trade, had always intended to create a training program, but it took until 2010 to officially launch the Apprenticeship Program. According to Will Beemer, past executive director of the guild, "In order to comply with the Department of Labor regulations for an apprenticeship, we had to develop qualifications, and therefore a curriculum," and that led to some primary questions. "We surveyed the top timber-framing companies and asked, 'What should a timber framer with three years of experience be able to do?"

Besides fleshing out an educational program, this research also helped set some standards for the craft. For example, it became clear that conservation – the repair and restoration of existing structures, from wood-beam carpentry to epoxy consolidation – was needed because, while many companies do new construction, conservation is less common and employees are not guaranteed to get such experience on the job.

In fact, Beemer says, "While the apprenticeship is fine-tuned to timber framing, parts of the program reach across a lot of trades." For example, there is a safety and first-aid class, as well as instruction in forklift operation that covers, among other aspects, the hazards to guard against when carrying a 30-ft.-long timber. However, it will concentrate on conventional construction and not advanced structures, such as steeples and covered bridges. (These require an engineering background that is beyond the apprenticeship's scope.)

Besides the hands-on training, the program requires four weeks of related classroom study and instruction in "academic" construction-related subjects, such as identifying tool marks – useful for documentation as well as actually working on structures. Though the program is just beginning, graduates of the three-year apprenticeship are expected to return to their jobs upon completion. Indeed, admission to the program is "direct entry" – that is, applicants have to be already employed in timber framing or a closely related construction industry.  TB

Preservation Trades Education Programs

American College of the Building Arts
21 Magazine St.
Charleston, SC 29401

Belmont College
120 Fox Shannon Place
St. Clairsville, OH 43950

Bucks County Community College
275 Swamp Rd.
Newtown, PA 18940

College of the Redwoods
7351 Tompkins Hill Rd.
Eureka, CA 95501

Colorado Mountain College
901 S. Highway 24
Leadville, CO 80461

Edgecombe Community College
2009 W. Wilson St.
Tarboro, NC 27886

North Bennet Street School
39 North Bennet St.
Boston, MA 02113

Savannah Technical College
5717 White Bluff Rd.
Savannah, GA 31405

Snow College Traditional Building Skills Institute
150 East College Ave. #150
Ephraim, UT 84627

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
750 King St.
Lancaster, PA 17602

The Timber Framers Guild Apprenticeship Program
PO Box 295
9 Mechanic St.
Alstead, NH 03602-0295

Noteworthy Preservation Institutes, Workshops, Centers and Groups

The Belvedere School for Preservation Trades
521 Bird St.
Hannibal, MO 63401

Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies
203 E. Seminary St.
Mt. Carroll, IL 61053

National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center
4801A Urbana Pike
Frederick, MD 21704

Pine Mountain Settlement School
36 Highway 510
Pine Mountain, KY 40810

Preservation Education Institute
54 Main St, P.O. Box 21,
Windsor, VT 05098

Preservation Trades Network
P.O. Box 151
Burbank, OH 44214

SPC Historic Masonry Training
3163 Heritage Parkway
Elgin, IL 60124

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