Our Town grant announcement

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced its latest round of funding for its Our Town initiative. Eligible activities include Arts Engagement, Cultural Planning, or Design. Prior grant recipients in Ohio have included: Westcott House Foundation in Springfield (2014), Pomerene Center for the Arts in Coshocton (2013), Detroit Shoreway in Cleveland (2012), Art Opportunities in Cincinnati (2012), and Artspace in Hamilton (2011), so the NEA is familiar with Our Town projects in Ohio.

An initial online application submitted through Grants.gov is due by December 15, 2014. For more information, click here to access the Our Town Grant information page.

We need more myth-busting!

I’m curious: did you happen to catch Barb Powers’ presentation at our Annual Conference in Kent, Myth-Busting the National Register of Historic Places? If not, here’s the quick (very quick!) summary: myths and misinformation abound when it comes to the National Register of Historic Places, including what owners of buildings are or are not required to do with their NR-listed property.

Combating that misinformation and trying to set the record straight seems to be one of those perpetual tasks for organizations such as the SHPO and Heritage Ohio. I was just reminded this week of the ignorance being spread about the National Register when I was reading an article about Hamilton’s efforts to list their downtown in the National Register in order to access tax credit incentives (you can read the article here). While the article is factually correct, the problems happen when we get to the comments section, specifically the commenter saying “Registration prevents revitalization and requires preservation. This is a bad move… You cannot change the exterior of registered buildings. You cannot demolish older buildings to replace them with newer buildings. You can maintain a movie set for the early 20th century. But, you kill revitalization of the city when you register the buildings.”

Of course, anyone who attended Barb’s session, or who has a basic familiarity with the National Register understands that these comments are patently false. The National Register does not require building owners to preserve their buildings. Nor does it prohibit exterior changes. Nor does it prohibit demolition. Unfortunately, these voices are out there, they crop up, and they have their believers. So, our jobs, as passionate preservationists, is to make sure we take every opportunity to educate people about what the National Register does and does not do, and refute National Register ignorance when we have the opportunity.

Ten truths of Smiley Pt II

I hope you had a chance to read the first post highlighting the Ten truths of Smiley. While not an exhaustive list, these were some of the concepts Marc presented at the June training in Marietta that struck a chord with me. I think that organizations keeping these “truths” in mind as they go about their mission-based work have a better chance of achieving their goals. We looked at 1-5 a couple days ago, and today we’re looking at 6-10.

6) The easy thing to do is grab people and put them on your board; the right thing to do is to approach board recruitment from a strategic standpoint.

Is there a secret to the success of highly effective organizations and the boards that run them? If there is, it certainly has something to do with the skills and knowledge of the people representing the board, and how those skills and knowledge uniquely assist the organization.

The board profile grid (something Marc is happy to share a sample of here) is a development tool that, when put into place and practiced, can become an “A-ha!” moment as board representatives realize for the first time that strategic development and recruitment of the board can propel an organization so much farther than simply trying to fill a board room with warm bodies. Every organization has unique skills it needs in order to accomplish its mission, and creating a customized board grid helps everyone understand what skills the current board brings to the table, and helps to narrow the focus for recruitment of new board members.

Marc shared a simple but brilliant device for keeping the board process in mind: R-O-T-E-R. A successful organization is careful to Recruit, Orient, Train, Evaluate, and Recognize their board.

7) When I say “board orientation,” do you say “What board orientation?”

Board orientation: it’s another one of those un-sexy but critical practices of successful organizations. In our years of working with local preservation organizations, and downtown revitalization organizations, we usually seem to encounter passionate people working on the external issues facing the community, but sometimes to the detriment of nurturing and building the internal foundation of the organization.

Have you ever been involved with an organization where you accepted a leadership role (such as serving on the board of directors) with vague promises from the board chair or the perpetually harried executive director to get you a full packet of board member materials, only to have little bits and pieces dribble in over the course of the first few meetings? (Forget the bylaws, I’d just be happy with a list of your passed motions from the last 12 months!) Making time to 1) put together a professional looking board orientation/board manual packet, and 2) sitting down with the prospective or new board member to share an organizational overview is not only a critical part of strengthening that board/stakeholder relationship, but making sure everyone is on the same page from the start. If you’re not sure what typically goes into a board member orientation packet, we can provide examples and share the important concepts we think a good orientation piece covers.

8) Good committee chairs: where do they hide???

If you were to ask whether someone would rather suffer from the occasional spontaneous bout of explosive diarrhea for the rest of their life or serve as the chair of the local Main Street program’s Economic Restructuring Committee for the next two years, I really think 99% of the people asked would politely pass on the chairmanship. So, lucky you, you’re on the hunt for that elusive 1% willing to serve as a committee chair.

While there’s no super secret rock that committee chairs-in-waiting hide under, there are things you can do to better set your organization up for success. Formalize the leadership cycle. Elect 2 vice chairs to serve staggered terms so there’s always overlap (and someone to share the occasional frustration). Or maintain committees with immediate past chair, current chair, and chair-elect as active committee members.

Sometimes it pays to be sneaky! Marc suggested this leadership recruitment trick: ask your prospect “Will you be the chair next year?” It always seems easier to commit to something in the future, and once you have the commitment, the hope is that your future chair will follow through when the time comes.

9) How well do you know your supporters and how well do they know you?

Over the course of my adult life I’ve had the experience of happily joining a nonprofit organization, strongly believing in their mission, only to become disillusioned a couple years in, because I would hear from them just once a year, when it came time to send my check in for my membership renewal. There was a lost opportunity to strengthen the donor/organization relationship, because there was no two-way relationship building: I wasn’t learning more about them and they weren’t learning more about me, and they lost my membership because of it.

As an organization, you have a great opportunity to tout yourself, but also to learn more about the people who believe in your work so explicitly that they financially support you. Welcoming someone with a new member packet, actually asking the “Why do you support us?” question, sending them a card on their birthday to let them know they’re important and that you care about their relationship with you, can all go a long way toward strengthening the member/organization bonds.

10) Last but not least: People have time to give, they do not have time to waste.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of your organization. Treat their volunteer time as the sacred gift it is. That means: no more meetings for the sake of having a meeting; no more meetings where the time is spent rehashing the discussion from last month’s meeting; no more board meetings where board members try to do the committees’ work; and no more meetings lasting more than two hours.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reviewing some of Marc’s top truths when it comes to organizational excellence. How will you know when you’ve really made it as an organization? In the words of Marc, it’s when people quit other boards in order to have the experience and privilege of serving on your board.

 

Ten truths of Smiley Pt I

We were pleased to host organizational guru Marc Smiley at our June Revitalization Training in Marietta (thank you to Marietta Main Street for being great hosts!) Marc did not disappoint as he spent the day clarifying organizational concepts, answering attendees’ questions, and providing humorous anecdotes. If you didn’t get the chance to attend, I’ve compiled some highlights, or truths, that Marc conveyed, for you to use in your day-to-day operations. We’ll go through 1-5 today, and then pick up 6-10 in a couple days.

1) The best organizations build relationships with their stakeholders over time.

How many times have you witnessed (or even worse, been a part of) an organization offering a board seat to an individual who has just recently joined an organization? Some organizations put out such a desperate vibe for board members (or other important leadership positions) that it seems their only qualifications for board service include a pulse and the ability to recite the name of the organization upon request. While the kind-hearted nature of the typical community volunteer means they feel part pity, part embarrassment at being asked, and part desire to help improve the culture of the organization, what begins with good intentions may not end with as good of results.

An organization moving its volunteers through deliberate phases (member, event volunteer, committee member, board member, organizational leader) gives both the organization and the volunteer a chance to get to know one another before either makes a big commitment in the relationship. When both sides have a better idea of what to expect from the other, the chances of burnout, frustration, and unpleasant surprises are lessened.

2) Neither the board or staff are islands unto themselves when it comes to raising money.

When it comes to fundraising, especially when looking at bigger donors, there are a bunch of tasks, from developing the “ask” materials, to prospecting for donors, to establishing and developing the donor/organization relationship, to making the ask, to stewarding the donor “post” ask. And any organization that does a good job of fundraising understands how those tasks are distributed among staff and board. The board cannot drop the job of fundraising into the executive director’s lap, nor can the executive staff put up its hands and expect the board to handle 100% of the fundraising tasks just because fiduciary responsibility sits squarely with the board.

3) Fear of raising money is not an excuse not to raise money.

Sometimes an organization develops the “woe is us” collective mentality, coupled with an intense fear of active fundraising to make things happen. You know the organization: they’re figuratively clanking their tin cup while sitting on the sidewalk, in the hopes that a kind soul will pass by, take pity on the group, and drop a few coins into their cup.

Organizations suffering from their own inferiority complex have two options: go for the extreme makeover, convincing themselves first, and then everyone else, that they play an important role in improving the community in which they are located. They take every opportunity to tout the good work they do, and to continually make the argument that they do what the public sector can’t do, or what the for-profit sector does not want to do. They demonstrate that donors giving to their organization will see returns on their giving, and do their best to insure that stakeholders are delighted to be involved with their mission-based work.

The other option? Let that fundraising fear paralyze the organization until their relevance within their sphere of work drops to a negligible level and the organization has to close its doors for good. (I promise: I’m not trying to write a “scared straight” post here.)

4) Understanding what is important, and what is urgent, and giving each its proper attention, is key.

This is where good planning habits come into play. Organizations that balance the approach of short-term and long-term planning are able to address not only the fires that have to be put out today (those decidedly un-sexy conversations about the ideal placement for outdoor trash receptacles), but the grand visions that, once accomplished, cause people to look directly into one another’s eyes, mouths agape, and say “Did we really just hold a ribbon cutting on that white elephant building that had been vacant for 25 years???”

It’s too easy, when we’re strictly focused on today, to forget to put our mission into the context of what we’re supposed to be accomplishing 20 years from now, just like it’s hard to tackle today’s problems when all we can focus on are the big-fix needs in our community. A good organization finds the balance between devoting resources to today’s urgent and tomorrow’s important, keeping both in mind.

5) Job descriptions for everyone!

No really, everyone needs a job description. OK, I sense those rolling eyes, and that sarcastic thought “Hooray, more busy work for me while I watch my community go to hell in a handbasket.”

But when it comes to getting off on the right foot, stakeholder to organization, there’s nothing better than shared expectations, transparency in expectations, and everyone being on the same page with what exactly those expectations comprise. And, one of the best ways to institutionalize that foundation is through a job description outlining function(s) within the job, responsibilities, and expectations.

Don’t fret if you’re involved in an organization totally lacking in job descriptions. We have many examples we’re happy to share as templates for you, as does Marc Smiley, here. See? Not that bad.

Anyway, we’ve covered 1-5. I hope you’ll join me in a couple days for the rest of the best, courtesy of Marc Smiley.

Mentoring visits

Last week, Jeff and I had the opportunity to visit the preservation statewides in Indiana and Michigan—Indiana Landmarks and Michigan Historic Preservation Network. We were able to travel thanks to a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its Brink Fund. This fund provides mentoring dollars to cover travel costs so preservation organizations such as Heritage Ohio can learn about successful programs in other states.

For Heritage Ohio, we’ve established our Save Ohio’s Treasures program with seed funding from the Turner Foundation and from the 1772 Foundation, and we’re in the “gathering information” phase. Visits to neighboring statewides will help prepare us as we investigate how best to create and formally launch Save Ohio’s Treasures.

In many ways, Indiana has the statewide organization that many other statewides aspire to become. With a multi-use headquarters, 40+ full-time staff stationed throughout the state, and an endangered fund program that has saved hundreds of historic buildings over the fund’s 40 years of existence, Indiana Landmarks shows what top-notch staff paired with generous donors can achieve. Their Efroymson Family Endangered Places Fund operates throughout the state, and Landmarks uses fund dollars to make strategic investments.

Michigan’s statewide has taken an innovative approach to raising funds by creating a subsidiary company to serve as a tax credit syndicator. They have used the fees generated from syndicating to capitalize their Intervention Loan Fund.

While their respective programs represent different ends of the endangered properties fund spectrum, we came away with critical insights from each that we can apply to our unique situation in Ohio. Here are some of the highlights of what we learned:

-Mission-related investments, unlike business-related investments, aren’t necessarily designed as much to make money as they are to save buildings (hence, we may invest in a project to save a building, when we know from the start that we’ll lose a portion of that investment)

-Making grants from an endangered fund, while attractive to the recipient, mean that once the money is disbursed, it’s gone, while loans from a fund (theoretically) come back to the fund and replenish the fund, making fund dollars go further

-Accepting program dollars with strings attached, when raising funds to build the corpus of the endangered places fund, may be ok (depending on what those strings are)

-It’s critical to think through the approach of how funds are loaned: do you spread a lot of minimal dollar amounts, or do you target larger dollar amounts for focused efforts, at the expense of overall impact

-It’s also critical to establish benchmarks about just how “historic” a building has to be to qualify for funding help (for example, should we consider strategic investment to help preserve properties not listed in the National Register of Historic Places?)

It has been exciting to work on building Save Ohio’s Treasures from the ground up for us, especially since we see the need and the potential for a fund devoted to helping to save our heritage.

As we sift through these important topics, we’re working with a team of consultants to complete an implementation plan toward the end of the year. We’ll take the lessons learned and insights gained from Indiana and Michigan to help us create a plan that sets up Save Ohio’s Treasures for success.

My intense week of learning

In June I was in Newport, Rhode Island, on the campus of Salve Regina University, to complete the second part of the Historic Real Estate Finance class put on by the National Development Council, with support from the 1772 Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (you can see pretty pictures of the Newport homes here and here).

The first class was intense. We spent the week learning developer math (calculating debt service, net operating income, market caps, and debt coverage ratios), cranking out pro forma sheets for actual projects, and plugging incentives such as the rehabilitation tax credits into project problems. What we learned early on as a class is that development, especially when it comes to historic buildings, carries a great deal of risk. While one project that goes right means positive cash flow to a developer, a project that goes wrong can put a developer under.

We also learned that revenues post-rehabilitation rarely match expenses going in pre-rehabilitation; hence, the need for incentives to help close the financing gap.

The first class was intense. The second class was brain damage, as the instructors mixed the math and story problems with a generous helping of New Markets Tax Credits learning (although, to the instructors’ credit, I left this class truly understanding, for the first time, how NMTCs work and why they can be so powerful to make projects go) *and* case studies that took problem solving to new heights of depth and complexity. (Here’s Dartmoor. I had an especially good time with the Dartmoor case study, as we tried to translate subjective qualities of the players into objective dollars and cents outputs.)

Going through these two classes, I have a new-found appreciation for the tough job of being a developer of historic properties, no matter how big or small the project, and just how big a risk people take sometimes to preserve the heritage that makes all of our lives richer for having it. Thank you to the National Development Council, the 1772 Foundation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for making such a valuable learning experience accessible, challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable!

Visual clues at the Fairfield County Infirmary Pt II

Yesterday we started reviewing a site visit to the Fairfield County Infirmary. Today we’ll take a look at a sandstone outbuilding on the property.

When I mentioned my excitement yesterday about the outbuildings, these pictured below were a big source of the excitement. Too often, unfortunately, these buildings are lost.

The outbuildings on a site can provide a richer detail of the day-to-day existence of the residents. Whether they were constructed with inferior materials or techniques, or decisions about ongoing maintenance focused on the main building to the detriment of the other buildings on the site, outbuildings can be too quickly and too easily lost to demolition.

The building in the foreground was well-constructed (obviously) with sandstone block composing the walls. But even a building material as sturdy as sandstone block can fall prey to the dangers of moisture. During the summer we may have hot and humid air just outside of this building, while the air temperature inside could be significantly cooler. Just like a cup of cold water will “sweat” in the hot summer air as water vapor condenses on its surface, water vapor in the air will condense on the cooler sandstone. While sandstone is an incredibly strong stone, its strength is compromised when wet, allowing deterioration to occur. In winter, when the warmer, wetter air in the interior of the building hits the colder, drier air, we have condensation, and ice.

The condensation and freeze/thaw cycles on the building contribute to an almost constant deterioration cycle. The moisture will attack the inherently weaker areas in the sandstone, and given 150+ years, the sandstone will show the pockmarked appearance, as the sandstone loses its binder. Working to equalize humidity and temperature levels between the outside and inside of the building will help to slow the deterioration. Otherwise, the owner of the building will have a large repair bill in the future, having to replace or restore the sandstone.

Given the location of the road and its proximity to the sandstone outbuilding, it’s also possible that salt-laden snow has been repeatedly piled against the lower wall. Any dissolved salt that penetrates the stone and refreezes will certainly speed deterioration of the stone. It’s important to try to keep all the possibilities in mind when assessing buildings and the site.

I’ll finish today’s post with a couple site photos, since the setting of the infirmary seemed very peaceful, especially on the day we visited.

With these two images of the back elevation and front facade of the building, you can get a sense of the topography of the site. Add active springs into the mix, and site drainage becomes an even more critical issue. There are places in the main building where you can hear the rush of the underground springs as they channel the water through the property.

The front lawn in this image is actually on the other side of Route 37. The county owned nearly 2,000 acres, I think, at its height for the infirmary site, but most of the land has been parceled off and sold. The lawn in this picture is part of OU’s Lancaster branch site.

We’re keeping close tabs on the fate of the complex and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we learn new information. Thanks to Jon Slater, Fairfield County Auditor, and Dennis Keller, Facilities Manager, for hosting us and giving us a peek into an important piece of Fairfield County history!

Visual clues at the Fairfield County Infirmary Pt I

Back in early May, Jeff and I visited the Fairfield County Infirmary. The main building is commonly known as the Miller Building. The campus is located on State Route 37, north and east of downtown Lancaster. The site is hilly and very picturesque, with underground springs that originally provided the water needs for the campus.

Jeff and I visited that day to tour the site with Fairfield County officials. The campus is nearly 100% vacant currently, and commissioners have sought ideas for redevelopment (thankfully, they are entertaining redevelopment options that include the preservation and continued use of some, if not all, of the buildings located on the site).

It was a thrill to tour through buildings dating to the 1820s, and to see so many of the site’s outbuildings that had survived, some in continued use even today. As we toured I paid special attention to what was happening with the buildings and the site. I kept in mind questions such as: how do the locations of buildings on the site (and the grading on the site) contribute to the protection of buildings and materials, or contribute to their deterioration; how have alterations and repairs protected buildings or sped their deterioration; and how have differences with temperature and humidity affected building materials. I’ll report on what I found over the next couple posts.

While it was initially puzzling to see this distinct two-toned appearance on the sandstone retaining wall, a closer investigation of the individual blocks points to a probable cause.

The two detail shots show what appears to be an intact stone crust, but a deteriorated interior structure. This means that water or water vapor was likely trapped within the stone. In other words, the surface of the stone became impermeable, not allowing trapped water or water vapor to pass through. Typically, if a stone or brick is coated with an impermeable sealer, the water or vapor collects against the inside face of the stone. The sustained wetness, not to mention freeze-thaw cycles, will cause the continual deterioration of the stone, as the water cannot escape, while the outside face of the stone appears relatively sound.

The sealed or “protected” face of the stone remains relatively deterioration-free, until the complete disintegration of the interior structure of the stone causes the crust to flake off, due to a lack of any internal support.

These images provide a perfect example of why I get nervous any time I hear someone talking about the need to “waterproof” or “seal” a masonry surface. While there are sealers that work well with masonry when there is a true need, so many times we see the sealer doing more damage than good because: 1) the masonry wall does not actually need to be sealed, and, 2) the sealer does not allow water vapor to pass through, trapping interior moisture within the masonry, speeding up deterioration.

There’s no mistaking that masonry can be a very strong building component, when used the right way. When masonry is stacked, such as the brick used in the building in this image, its ability to hold up the structure and work against gravity is impressive. However, masonry is no match for forces pushing against a wall (as opposed to forces such as gravity, which pushes down through the wall, not against it). Here, a single thickness concrete block retaining wall shows a visible bow as the pressure exerted by the earthen hill exceeds the strength of the bond between the block and the mortar in the retaining wall.

What I really like about this image is the well-worn sandstone door sill. On the day this sill was placed, the plane across the top of the stone was level and straight. The wear we see in the image is the tangible evidence of the people that came before us, thousands of steps coming into or out of the building, crossing the threshold.

Also interesting to note is the lower rail of the screen door. Instead of fabricating the typical rectangular shape, someone accounted for the gap created by the wear and cut a custom fitted rail, conforming to the dip in the stone.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more visuals from our visit, and more thoughts about the different forces acting upon the buildings.

Preservation trades annual conference coming back to St Clairsville!

I’m so excited to let you know that the Preservation Trades Network is bringing its annual conference (the International Preservation Trades Workshop, or IPTW) back to Ohio, specifically to St Clairsville! On September 12 and 13, Belmont College’s campus will become an unparalleled learning center for attendees to watch countless demonstrations related to the building trades. Promising 30+ traditional trade demonstrations in 10 different tracks, PTN’s workshop will truly have something for everyone.

However, it won’t just be about learning. There’s a Wheeling Pub & History Crawl, awards dinner and auction, *and* Trades Olympics! (I suppose I better get those chisels sharpened.)

So, it’s one thing to be excited about this year’s IPTW and the great opportunities to watch demonstrations, but I’m doubly excited because Belmont College is my alma mater. It’s where I first learned the finer points on reconstructing a sandstone foundation wall, learned how to recondition old wood windows to function like new, learned how to repair plaster, how to create new stained glass and restore historic stained glass, learned stone carving. Oh, and learned how systems like plumbing and electrical work in a house.

Preservation and the trades have become so intertwined both in my personal and professional life, that the campus of Belmont is like hallowed ground for me…where it all started for me, if you will. Although it’s been almost 20 years since I was a student at Belmont, to this day I’m still actively putting into practice what I learned there, so coming back to brush up on the trades, learn new tips and techniques, or to just be amazed by the talent and ability on display will be an amazing privilege to experience.

Online registration is open now. Just go to ptn.org and click on IPTW 2014. I hope to see you there!

Countering demolition arguments…or beating the “George Washington slept here” mindset

When I was young my parents shuffled me and my sister around the country to take in our country’s landmarks during the summer family vacations. With only enough time to hit the highlights of American history, we grew up with a narrow perspective of what it meant for something to be “historic.” Historic was a term reserved for east coast taverns where George Washington slept, Independence Hall in Philadelphia where our founding fathers toiled over the wording to the Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana (itself a replica, but nonetheless, a “historic” replica).

History was synonymous with national importance, but there was some room for folks with state importance: governors, semi-mythical figures, and such. What really didn’t have that heritage cache, though, were the local historic districts, whether residential or commercial. Each district had many fine, old buildings, but we didn’t travel to Madison, Indiana, to take in their huge landmark districts and learn about their old buildings. I’m guessing a lot of people were raised with the bias about what constitutes historic versus non-historic, and whether we could still consider all of the places where Washington *didn’t* sleep as historic in their own right.

While that began to change in the 1930s as communities such as Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans designated local historic districts, giving residents on a board of architectural review the power to stop the demolition of historic resources, the Penn Central case in the 1970s seemed to put the federal government’s stamp of approval on the designation and protection of historic resources in local districts. In other words, we were beginning to figure out that a wide swath of our history and architecture was important, was worth preserving, and was worth protecting against demolition.

How things have changed, collectively, in the last 25-30 years.

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