Findings from the First Collaborative Discussion about Promoting Preservation Trades in West Virginia
government agencies, and nonprofit organizations as well as community volunteers and preservation enthusiasts. At the end of the meeting, interested individuals signed up to be a part of a Preservation Trades Task Force that will use action items identified during the meeting to direct our next steps.
The first set of questions discussed were - What historic trade is most in demand? What historic resources are suffering/or are we losing because we don’t have workers? What trades are we losing?
From our discussions, we identified five historic trades that are in high demand in West Virginia, but that West Virginia is startlingly lacking in institutional/practical knowledge. These are:
There were also several comments about how it was difficult to find roofing companies to work on slate roofs and that deferred maintenance of smaller problems at our older buildings have led to more expensive repairs, total replacement of historic elements, and unfortunately in many cases, demolition by neglect - meaning that the building has been allowed to deteriorate to the point that demolition becomes necessary or restoration becomes unreasonable.
The second set of questions were divided into two separate points. The first being - what are the challenges facing West Virginia’s historic resources in particular? The second question being - what unique opportunities do West Virginia’s historic resources present?
Overall, the groups agreed that West Virginia is rich in cultural heritage resources in need of rehabilitation and prime for redevelopment, but we also agreed that retaining and attracting people to West Virginia to live and work in these buildings is one of the biggest challenges our historical towns and cities are facing. Those challenges are further complicated by economic challenges to fund historic preservation projects. Often, the price-tag of a historic structure seems prohibitive compared to the price tag of an entirely new building, and this is compounded by negative attitudes towards historic preservation being costly and complicated in West Virginia.
There are also misconceptions that historic buildings cannot be rehabilitated because of hazardous materials such as asbestos or lead-based paint contamination. However, West Virginia has multiple initiatives, including grant funding from the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, to help property owners understand the challenges related to mitigating hazardous materials in their historic buildings. There are also existing regional development agencies that target historic buildings for community-based revitalization projects, and provide support for dealing with these challenges.
There is currently an obvious lack of knowledge in the fields of historic preservation trades in much of West Virginia. There is no central trade school or historic preservation technical program in West Virginia to educate our population in these skills, nor is historic preservation being taught at any vocational high school programs. Belmont Technical College is located very close to the northern panhandle of West Virginia in St. Clairsville, OH, and it offers a Building Preservation/Restoration degree program. The groups believe that we can capitalize on this institutional opportunity by encouraging individuals to attend the Belmont Technical College program and using it as a model to develop other preservation training programs in West Virginia.
There is also a lack of access to the correct materials needed to rehabilitate many historic buildings or a lack of understanding of how to source materials locally. This lack of access and understanding threatens our infrastructure because construction professionals are trying to repair buildings using incorrect materials that can further degrade the historic structure.
The final set of questions revolved around the theme of what can we do to encourage education in historic preservation trades?
There is already a respect and value placed on trades skills in West Virginia that works in our favor. Our groups compiled a list of suggestions on the point of how to develop opportunities for people to pursue a preservation trades career. The Preservation Trades Task Force is exploring these suggestions, which included:
The Preservation Trades Task Force is already working on some of these action items and will be meeting monthly to discuss our projects. If you are interested in joining the Preservation Trades Task Force or for more information, contact PAWV executive director, Danielle Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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