Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who is Charge Here?

I have been thinking lately about what exactly it is that we, as preservationists, or people concerned about the look and function of communities, are supposed to be doing, when all the dust has settled.  I think about that a lot, but several recent projects have involved me and a bunch of doubting Thomas’ sitting around a table arguing about end product and approaches and what is the best course for the resource, the client, and history.  Or not.  Because surely preservationists can disagree among themselves with the best of them.
Most of our process, as I have written before, tends to focus on architectural detailing, use of materials, and the physical aspects of rehab and preservation.  That’s probably natural, as buildings are the focus, and buildings are made of pieces that can change or be modified in various ways.  How we manage that change is the acid test between rehabilitation and remuddling, right?

But not every building or structure is or should be a museum and sometimes what WAS done may not be the best choice for what needs to be done now, or could be.  Nobody should have to replicate an error, just because it was original design and I like  to think that nobody in preservation would actually expect that.  But conversely, there is no justification that I can think of to remove historic fabric without reason, simply because some bean-counter has decided on the fly that it will better society.
Two recent projects demonstrate differing sides of this complex issue.  In the first a non-historic roofing material was suggested as replacement, providing multiple benefits yet not quite getting the appearance accurate.  Most of us involved, both the proponents and the regulators, were willing to “give it a try” and see how it actually looked at the end of the day but the Federal standards (and the federal money) wouldn’t pay for it and so, whether it was the right thing to do or not, the Federal standards (and the Federal money) required that the same, historic, roofing material be used, despite its acknowledged lower performance.  I suppose that if it’s the Feds money, and they want to pay to replace the roof periodically, it's their call.
But on the other side of the issue is a second situation in which historic windows will be replaced with non-historic windows, providing what almost everyone involved acknowledges are minimal energy benefits while at the same time costing lots of money and damaging historic character.  SOME of us involved think this entire process is a complete and total waste of money, but the Federal standards (and the Federal money) demand that the historic windows be replaced, whether it really makes any sense or not, and at the end of the day the Federal standards (and the Federal money) mean that is exactly what will happen.  I suppose if it’s the Feds money, and they want to waste it paying to replace perfectly decent windows to “save” energy, it's their call.
I think it might be a good idea for the Federal government to get its story straight, to perhaps have one Cabinet-level department talk with another Cabinet-level department and come up with something that at least TRIES to present a consistent approach to what really is the same issue.  Maybe doing so would save we taxpayers money, save our community's history, and probably could Buy American and create jobs (which was the point) in the process.  Maybe it would be a good idea for the National-level preservation community to point out that REHABILITATION actually creates more jobs for Americans than what we are now paying for.  Maybe it would be a good idea for the Administration to actually listen when they do. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tell me a story

Sometimes, in the CRM-biz, the proposed “undertaking” is, for whatever reason, determined to be “Adverse.” This can be a necessary change that still results in the loss of historic fabric or character.  More seriously, it can mean the complete removal of a historic resource. One of the projects I am working on, the Gold Ray Hydroelectric Project, is in that latter category. A 1904-era power project, the Gold Ray Dam has not had any functional use since 1974, when PacifiCorp stopped generating power in the plant and deeded the dam, the powerhouse, and most of the site around it to Jackson County. The County hoped to develop it into a park and museum, but budget woes killed that and so the dam has just been in the way for the last four decades.

In a few weeks Slayden Construction will begin the process to remove the Dam, the Powerhouse, the old fish ladder and every other “in-stream” aspect of the project with funding from the National Marine Fisheries Service. NMFS funding and participation make this, obviously, a Federal undertaking and, since Gold Ray was determined to be historically significant, and since removal is pretty obviously “Adverse” to its historic character, NMFS and Jackson County will have to mitigate that loss.

Mitigation here will include, in addition to HAER documentation and photography for the record, a fairly cool interpretive plan. We are going to salvage major components from the Power House (a generator, a turbine, the marble-backed switchboard, maybe even the roof monitor, if we can figure out how to get it off in one piece) and use them to help illustrate the scale and function of the facility on the site. I will research and write the text and graphics for two rather substantial interpretative panels to be located on-site and help explain the history and significance of Gold Ray to southern Oregon; what it was, why it was built there, and the impact that it had in bringing electricity to the region. Should be an interesting story, and hopefully will give visitors to the Gold Ray site a better understanding of what once stood where they stand. That’s interpretation.