FM Frequency: Historic Sites – Challenges, Opportunities

By Charles C. Carpenter, CFM
From the May 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Facilities age, their components get old, and replacement parts get harder to find. Over their life cycles, facilities see new inhabitants and gain new purposes. An inconsequential detail to an architect could be a big issue for a facility manager (fm) working in a building months, years, or decades later. These facts are especially challenging for facility management of historic facilities. These treasured, old buildings were often constructed without many modern conveniences; however, because they are treasured, they attract people who want to see, hear, smell, and touch them (but hopefully not taste) with an expectation of present-day amenities.

Hancock Shaker Village
The Round Stone Barn, originally built in 1826, underwent paint restoration in 2009. Upper levels of the barn were painted to appear as they did circa 1865, when the barn was rebuilt and renovated after a fire. (Photo: courtesy of Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA)

These “amenities” are spelled out in every modern building’s set of construction drawings under MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing). But what if a facility predates MEP? Beside such modernizations, fms also must contend with codes and ordinances, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Making retrofits to any facility can be a challenge; the older the building, the greater the challenge. To make retrofits to historic buildings without changing their character or possibly compromising their historic designation can be daunting. While ADA does allow for exceptions for historic facilities, it is not a rubber stamp.

For some, the preference is “out with the old, in with the new.” Historic preservation really gained momentum when President Truman signed legislation creating the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1949. With it came designations and protections for historic facilities that otherwise may have been replaced with more efficient structures.

Preserving some historic facilities is a no-brainer. As national historic “treasures,” Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA and Province House in Prince Edward Island, Canada will always be preserved. Governments are able to allocate funds for buildings that are important to their foundation. The challenge is for privately owned facilities where the owners may not have the funds and/or the interest, regardless of how historical the place may be.

One such site to face this challenge is the Hancock Shaker Village (HSV) in Pittsfield, MA. While the HSV began in the 1780s, urbanization eroded the number of Shakers; dwindling this religious community that did not believe in marriage (their numbers grew via conversion and adoption). After selling pieces to stay solvent, the last Shakers at HSV sold the remaining acreage and buildings in 1960 to a group of preservation enthusiasts.

The HSV, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968, is well maintained thanks to a dedicated Farm and Facilities staff. There exists a delicate balance between preserving buildings dating back almost 200 years and managing the public. Operating costs are offset by admission charges, corporate retreats, and, ironically, wedding rentals. While many of the 18 historic structures are kept as original as possible, some accommodations have been made for accessibility or education.

HSV has also embraced sustainability in the spirit of the original Shakers. A photovoltaic solar array graces the modern visitor’s center, and modern materials went into a new greenhouse that expands the site’s growing season. HSV also planted biofuel crops as part of a study by the University of Massachusetts.

Going back further in time (1,000 years in time), one would find Hrad Lukov (Castle Luke) in the present-day Czech Republic. This castle, which predates MEP, exchanged hands repeatedly until its abandonment in the 1800s. Soon after, locals used it as a source of cheap building materials. In the 1980s, preservation and restoration efforts took hold at Hrad Lukov.

If you think restoring such an old site to be an overwhelming task, how would you like to be the fm who was told to only use period methods? Whether for historic accuracy, its remote location, or cost, the restoration of Hrad Lukov (those who do not read Czech can use Google Translate) was undertaken using tools and materials that the original builders would have used. The restoration is a testament to the volunteers and generous benefactors; the admission cost of US$1.50 can only offset so much of the budget. While a support building has been added with electricity [no signs of the M or the P], visitors should not come expecting WiFi.

Some facilities are moved for preservation. It is not uncommon for a historic facility to be moved to preserve its existence—even if the facility is not a building. In Muskogee, OK, you will find the USS Batfish, a WWII submarine that rests inland from the Arkansas River. While efforts were made to keep the Batfish intact, the air conditioning condensers on its deck are a clear indication of changes that were needed to accommodate visitors. The sub, which is mostly accessible, has equipment secured in the interest of safety as much as preservation. As an added bonus, visitors will depart with the smell of diesel fuel embedded in their clothing.

Some facilities cannot be moved and therefore have to be changed. Chicago’s Wrigley Field, which celebrates 100 years in 2014, is one such example. It went without stadium lights until 1988 (and was rained out the night the lights came on). Even the charm of this old ballpark might eventually fade without modern restrooms and concessions.

Charles Carpenter

Whatever the use, historic facilities serve a grand purpose. These represent living history or commemorate events that took place. While these are a challenge to maintain, hopefully everyone can appreciate the skills of the fms for these sites… skills that do get better with age.

Carpenter is site manager, global real estate for HP in Austin, TX. He has worked in facility management since 1995.