Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Unfortunately, in the rush to stimulate, nobody in DC (or in my case, Salem) considered the implications or special circumstances that might occur by raining money for window replacement on hundreds of highly significant historic structures owned by cash-strapped local governments. As a result I spent the better part of a day last week touring National Register listed buildings, most with original windows, that shall soon have them removed at great expense and, frankly, minimal energy benefit.
The simple fact of the matter is that window replacement is about the least cost-effective, or energy saving, thing that you can do to a property. But, because window manufacturers have spent millions and millions of dollars convincing everyone otherwise, it is often the first thing a property owner considers. Would that logic and common sense had an advertising budget or a marketing deal with This Old House.
100-year old, single-pane, wood windows, have an “R-value” (a value related to energy/heat transfer) of about 1.0. If you yank that window out and replace it with a state-of-the-art low-E, Argon-filled, thermal paned, window sash you will, as Anderson-Pozzi-Marvin et al are quick to point out, improve the performance of that glazing by more than 400%! To R4.5. In two words...big deal. What Anderson and their friends don’t tell you is that the wall next to the window, even without insulation, performs about twice as well and that windows, even state-of-the-art windows, are going to suck energy out of your house no matter what. If you REALLY want to save energy, don't have any windows.
Let me add that if you are building new, of course, you should use the best new technologies can offer. But removing existing windows for the minimal improvement and high cost of current window technology simply doesn't pay. Beside destroying historic character, it clogs the landfill, squanders embodied energy and doesn't really do much to increase America's "energy independence" in the long run. This is especially true when most of the problems with existing historic windows has nothing to do with their single-pane glass and everything to do with air infiltration. Air infiltration is easily repaired, or it could be if anybody ever bothered to repair anything anymore when tossing it and passing the deferred maintenance problem onto the next guy is offered as an option.
Saving energy and money are laudable goals and the Stimulus package could help. In virtually every case, particularly in a historic building, you lose far more energy through heat loss through the ceiling. Heat, as any 1st year physics student can tell you, rises. Insulation, that pink fiberglass stuff the Pink Panther used to promote, is fairly cheap and very effective in conserving energy. Super-insulating your ceiling/attic will typically save enough money to pay for the insulation within a few short years. Window replacement in one commercial project I am currently involved with won’t pay for itself until 2150, over 140 years.(Yes, 140 years!)
‘Course we will likely go ahead and replace the historic sash in that building with new, state of the art, sash. And we will do so in as appropriate a fashion as possible because it’s a historic building and the windows need to look as much like the originals as possible. We could improve those old windows, probably to about R2.5, and put lots of Oregonians to work (restoration being more labor intensive than replacement), but we won't. That's because replacing the windows (or at least improving their performance to a whopping R3.2) is a requirement of the grant and so you have replace the windows if they want to get the funding to replace the HVAC units. And replacing the old boiler is a good idea, and will save a lot of energy.
Besides, spending $500K replacing windows that don't really make sense won't be paid for by the local government. It's the Feds money. And, as a taxpayer, it's yours.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
In 1891 Medford decided to build a new school building on the site (a brick structure that would be known as Washington Elementary). Local businessman A. A. Davis, president of the Medford Roller Mill, purchased the school building and moved it to a lot on 10th Street, near Oakdale, behind the Catholic Church. Davis, a wealthy landowner, entirely remodeled the old school as his residence, stripping off the belltower and building a fine two-story Temple Front porch as the entry. To the east he had a porte cochere, a covered driveway, built to create a dignified appearance.
After Davis, the house was occupied by another pioneer family, the Alfords, and then during WWII was transformed into an apartment complex, the “Colonial Arms.” It remained as apartments, falling on harder and harder times, until 1976 when two attorneys purchased the place and decided to transform it into offices. Their major remodel was longer on heart than quality but the building housed a host of professional uses including the Britt Festival administration, before it was purchased by Sacred Heart Catholic Church, for use as the church offices.
Today, 40 years after the well-intentioned remodel, the wood siding is failing, woodpeckers have discovered the place, and the non-insulated walls and ceilings are creating huge heating and cooling bills. We are working on some specifications to guide a major rehab project, replacing the poor 1976 siding with new material after installing wall cavity insulation, shear, and better venting. The windows will be rebuilt and improved, some bad design decisions will be corrected and, all-in-all, the building will get a new, and improved, lease on life. Think of it as the 120-year tune up.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
More recently, working first with landscape architect Laurie Sager and now directly with the City, I’ve gotten involved with the on-going restoration of what is at least the second Peter Britt fountain, located on the Britt Festival grounds, in Jacksonville. Peter Britt was quite the horticulturist and not only was responsible for introducing many plant types to southern Oregon (including the region’s first wine grapes) but maintained his own grounds as something like a park. The second Britt Fountain is a poured-in-place concrete basin about 6 feet in diameter and 36” height, with fine recessed panels forming a octagonal basin. Historic images (I think that is Mollie and Emil, Peter’s children. Emil was the Mayor of Jacksonville for most of the first half of the 20th century) show the fountain with a simple standpipe. We don’t know for sure, but it probably was just pressure fed and drained out into the garden.
At some point the fountain use ended and the basin was filled with soil and used as a planter. I can remember standing in line for Britt shows when the pansies were in bloom (As my wife will tell you I am horrible at identifying plants…I think they were pansies but they could have been tulips for all I know. They were colored flowers, okay?). Caged soil and concrete aren’t a great match and, eventually, the steel drain pipes rusted and began to force full-height cracks through some of the concrete panels. Other areas, particularly the projecting sill and the base (the concrete pad around the base has been removed) spalled and show significant damage. Eventually somebody realized watering the plants wasn’t helping and took them out. For the past few years the Britt Fountain has been a large pot of dirt, sprouting a few airborne weeds but nothing much else.
Earlier this year Sager and Associates designed a major renovation of this portion of the Britt Grounds (including a very cool steel superstructure that will help interpret the Britt House, which burned many years ago). The City has funding to restore the fountain, which will include restoration and repair of the concrete, installation of a new pump and a single standpipe spray. To control damage we are looking at internal supports and the installation of a stainless steel “basin” (you can’t have a 36” deep pool of water in a public park due to liability issues) that will fit carefully inside the concrete. I like to think that Mollie and Emil would be pleased.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The School District, 549C, and Dr. Phil Long, their superintendent, had secured $189 million in bond funding from the generous voters of Medford, promising to rebuild these structures, along with major improvements to most of the other schools and construction of a new high school to replace South. In the Summer of 2007, the day after school closed, 549C summarily closed both Jackson and Roosevelt, claiming that the brick was faulty and beyond repair, creating a eminent hazard to children. This was, frankly, a lie. They had no testing upon which to base that claim and in my discussions with Dr. Long about the issue he blandly admitted that the District simply didn't want to operate a three-story building. "They just don't work for us, as a school," he told me.
In typical political machination, still without any testing, 549C came up with a silly retrofit cost from an engineer unfamiliar with structural rehab. I have never seen so much concrete and steel inserted into a structure without reason in my career. What a surprise the costs were far more than demolition and new construction. Then they announced that cost over-runs at the new high school would require that neither Jackson or Roosevelt ever be rebuilt. (Funny, but that was their original goal, before election polling showed that the bond wouldn't pass if Jackson and Roosevelt were eliminated. Parents in both those neighborhoods, assured that their schools would be retained, hit the streets and got out the vote. The bond request passed by a mere 300 or so more "yes" votes than "no.")
The group that I was involved with, Save Medford Schools, shifted (wisely) to fight to keep schools on the Jackson and Roosevelt sites as the neighbors were promised. I continued to push for release of the brick study (which I had pushed 549C to commission during the Summer, but which 549C refused to publish...guess why?) and accurate cost justification that showed rehab was more expensive than demo and rebuild. Of course, the day they released the brick study, which of course found the bricks were fine, they also announced a new plan to rebuild Jackson and Roosevelt anyway, with money that came from their over-estimate of the repair of North High School. This effectively split the opposition, with parents who just wanted a neighborhood school on one side afraid to make any more waves and preservationists and fiscally minded community number-crunchers on the other, knowing that the District had cooked the numbers to get what they wanted to begin with.
Both Jackson and Roosevelt are now the site of new, two-story, buildings that will be opened next year. "Flagship High," as the monstrous suburban collector school the District is building at the edge of town has come to be known, is nearly complete. It fails to provide adequate theater and sport facilities, meaning the District will have to retain and maintain South to make it work and that students will have to drive or be bussed back and forth between the campuses (it is too far to walk).
The entire episode, as I testified to the 549C Board in January 2008 was a violation of the public trust, a waste of public funding, and the most egregious example of mismanagement on the part of an elected body I have ever been associated with in more than 25 years of public involvement. Had I been a Medford resident I would have led an effort to recall all of them, but not being so, I was effectively characterized as a "butt-inski" from Ashland.
The photos are of Jackson, in better days and during demolition. This week the Medford Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission announced its intent to nominate Washington School to the National Register. Dr. Long is 'considering' whether to support their effort. I am not holding my breath.
Monday, September 14, 2009
When I was at the UO, learning the preservation ropes, a group of us came up with the mnemonic “BDOSS” (pronounced Be-Doss) to get through the HP 101 question of “what types of resources are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (Buildings, Districts, Objects, Sites, and Structures). It worked. I still remember it.
However, like Roger Maris’ 61 homeruns, BDOSS should really be BDOSS* since the Park Service has added variations to that original group of five including linear districts, non-contiguous districts, Traditional Cultural Properties (TCP’s) and what is the focus of this blogpost (you were wondering, right?) a “Multiple Property Submittals” or MPS. An MPS is a group of resources, of any time, that are related. Some of the classic examples of MPS (back when they were called Thematic nominations) were things like the Covered Bridges of Oregon or the CCC-built structures of the National Forest Service.
I have worked on what amounts to MPS documentation before, mostly for the far flung resources of hydroelectric projects, but I am now in the process of starting to layout the formal submittal on the Bonneville Power Administration Transmission System, which is, um, more far flung than most. This nomination will encompass resources in seven states, ranging from transmission lines to radio towers, control rooms and “untanking houses,” all related to the 70+ year history of public power development in the Pacific Northwest.
The MPS format essentially defines the “BPA Universe,” the realm and extent of the resources that are related to the significant themes by geography and type and, after defining what sorts of resources are out there that MAY be significant, establishes thresholds of integrity for each resource type to determine if they ARE significant. For an entity such as BPA, with literally 1000s of “things” to consider, an MPS submittal should save a lot of time and effort from a regulatory standpoint. Assuming I get it right!
In the meantime, as posted before, I am often finding my time spent staring at pictures of substations, or t-lines or radio towers or any of the other various pieces of the BPA puzzle in an effort to determine the significant patterns. WHAT makes a transmission line significant and how much can you modify it without losing some essential quality that makes it so? Good thing I like T-lines. The following is my current desktop, which probably certifies me as being in the thick of t-line thought .....
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In 1948 the voters of Jackson County, Oregon passed a “Historic Levy,” to support the restoration of the Jacksonville Courthouse and fund the operations of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, SOHS, that would operate it. Twenty-five cents of every $1000 in assessed value would go to support the Society, a huge amount of money then and now. For decades SOHS enjoyed stable funding from this tax base and built what at one time was the largest local historical society west of the Mississippi River. In addition to the Courthouse, the County allowed SOHS to take over, manage, and maintain for its own or interpretative uses, an entire series of County-owned properties in Jacksonville, most of which it had acquired for back taxes during the Great Depression. From this Jacksonville built a strong tourism/history based economy, ultimately becoming one of the highest value community's in the region, raising property values, raising the County's receipts, and generally showing that a small investment in history pays.
As Jackson County’s property values rose, SOHS began to take only a portion of its .25 mil rate, usually about a dime. Over the years the County itself, in an effort to fund its own operations without having to go to the voters for more money, began to take a greater and greater portion of the remaining fifteen cents of the historical levy. In 1995 Jack Walker was elected to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and for whatever reason embarked upon what can only be characterized as a vendetta against SOHS. At some point he decided that since the Jackson County Courthouse (the current Courthouse, in Medford) was a historic building (it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), and that SOHS should, out its portion of the levy, help to maintain it. Specifically, he wanted SOHS to pay for a new roof. SOHS, with its own building projects in mind, said no. Jack has never forgiven them. SOHS, like many historical societies, has traditionally been run by well-meaning historians who among many skills do not count political savvy or brinksmanship. Walker and the Board of Commissioners, which collected the levy for SOHS and so controlled its dispersal essentially took the position that THEY, and they alone could determine how SOHS would spend the funds that were levied for their support.
Long story short, Jack concocted a “split” whereby SOHS got 75% of the .10 cents it levied, the Jackson County Historical Fund got 12.5% and, you guessed it the County got the other 12.5% to “maintain” the courthouse. For a realm of scale, the total 10 cent levy toward the end amounted to about $1.5million annually. (And, of course, Jackson County still kept the other .15 cents per thousand for its own purposes). SOHS, nice SOHS, befuddled SOHS, said nothing.
Then, in 1996 and 1997, came Bill Sizemore’s Ballot Measures 47 and 50 which, among other things, made all existing special levies permanent and melded them into the County’s general tax rate. Jack and the Commissioners now had ALL the .25 cents (along with the existing levy at that time intended to fund library operations, but that’s another story). Guess what they did? They announced their intention to retain the entire proceeds of the now permanent .25 per $1000 historical levy, ending all payments to SOHS and the Jackson County Historical Fund. One can assume they still use some of the levy proceeds to maintain the Courthouse. There was a painful transition period, lawsuits, and ultimately a shotgun wedding of sorts phase out of support to SOHS but, as of a few years ago, Jackson County keeps all the money, even denying any payments to take care of the Jacksonville buildings that it still owns. SOHS made valiant efforts toward self-sufficiency but, with the recent downturn in the economy and shrinking donations, they have faced a harder and harder road.
SOHS announced earlier this week that they are going to close their operations for six months in an effort to develop a sustainable funding model. Jack Walker and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners continue to benefit from the .25 per $1000 of assessed value, a sizable portion of the County’s general fund income worth millions of dollars annually. I think that stinks. I don't think I'm the only one that does.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
For many years, in reference to building legislative support for historic preservation issues, I have suggested that until such time as saving old buildings is seen as an intrinsic goal, we are fighting battle by battle whilst losing the “war.” Were we to get to the point, from nostalgia, good planning, economics, environmental stewardship or simple respect, where there was substantial agreement that keeping buildings standing unless there is a truly justified reason to remove them, the debate would be reduced to who pays. Preservation, were it a “mom and apple pie” issue, would be a lot easier to promote.
The same, sadly, is becoming true in the larger world of heritage. Preservationists rely upon historical societies and museums, often working in close partnership with them and their extensive photo libraries and archives. Most of us, I am sure, hold multiple memberships in a variety of historical societies. I know I belong to about five or six organizations, mostly local or county museums, in the areas in which I work frequently.
Museums, by their nature, rarely get involved in the sort of advocacy issues that can sometime make preservation enemies and so, in general, elected officials tend toward a more benign attitude toward them. Aside from the stereotypes, it’s the rare museum that leads the fight to save the old farmstead, hindering the Wal-Mart that some see as progress. Instead, at least in the view of many, a museum is the responsible repository for the remnant gate or weathervane, after the farmstead is sacrificed for “progress.”
But in these hard economic times, museums and other heritage organizations are hurting. Societies and museums that relied upon public funding are seeing it yanked by officials who under prioritize their value. Many well-meaning leaders simply don’t have enough funding to go around. Others, with an axe to grind (and that would include my own
Last Monday the Oregon Heritage Commission met in Prineville and discussed the looming crisis in
Friday, July 24, 2009
Sometimes it seems to me that as a preservation consultant, particularly working in some communities, my job involves planning for what to do after we “take that garbage off” of the building façade. Of course that begs the question of “what were they thinking?” when they put it up. Most times de-garbagifcation is pretty easy, and there is occasionally the fine surprise (like leaded glass windows below a sheet metal façade on one project) that makes everyone one the project scurry and regroup to redesign. Most of the time, however, on the day of the big "unveiling," you just discover an ugly hole, or a shoddy patch-job where the windows (doors, whatever) used to be. It really seems sometimes that earlier owners and the contractors were bound and determined to remove any vestige of grace or character from their building as quickly, and completely, as possible.
In downtown Medford, a successful community for many years where merchants and property owners serially renovated their building facades to keep up with the times, there are plenty of great buildings hidden by plenty of garbage. In years past, when I was the design consultant for the Medford Urban Renewal Agency (MURA), I got pretty good and removing the 1960s (or 1980s) from a façade and finding some way to reinterpret (or rediscover) the 1920s (or 1930s) underneath. For the past few days I’ve been staring at current and historic images of the 1911 Crater Lake Garage building, one of the few surviving brick auto-garages along what southern Oregon fancied as Medford’s “Auto Row.” The poor building has been hidden behind really terrible 1980s wooden screens that cover the (unfortunately) long-lost windows. Whomever put these up, made as they are of exposed end-grain Fir, must not have realized that this is Oregon, western Oregon in particular, where we are know to get the occasional rainstorm.
Originally the Crater Lake Garage had large service doors, modified after 1922 to create typical storefronts. While the building has been modified, and while the front entry to the proposed restaurant use will actually be on what was historically the rear (facing a large public parking lot), we’ll come up with something to make this elevation more attractive. New owners, new paint, and half a dozen windows in what are now blocked in openings will return life to this building and once again get natural daylight to the interior. A modest change, but one that should have big impact on downtown Medford.