Vocational Education Program


Vocational Programs

Over the past five years, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network has taken great pride in moving its efforts into the area of vocational training in the preservation trades. Two programs have been developed that take MHPN trainers directly into the public education school system, one in Detroit, Wayne County, and the second in Battle Creek, Calhoun County. A third program provides a hands-on short course for the restoration of wood windows. This program has been offered to both un- and under-employed professionals and homeowners. More information on each of these programs is presented below.

Students learn new skills from old trades at Historic Fort Wayne, Detroit

Bricks and mortar are about as low tech as you can go in this cyber-enriched world. And as old as bricklaying is as a trade, it’s even older when considering the historic preservation skills required to restore Historic Fort Wayne. All that is part of the lesson plan for students at Detroit’s Randolph Career and Technical Center who have been working with preservation masons, carpenters, plasterers and architects at the 151-year old historic site in Southwest Detroit.

The masonry students were assigned a section of the 1845 Fort Wayne brick wall to restore. Instructor/mason Steve Snyder of Heritage Masonry said that the fort wall is a good teaching tool as well as an important part of Detroit’s history. Four students from the school have been working on site two days each week, replacing the deteriorated brick with salvaged brick and lime mortar.

CAD/Architecture instructor Ron Campbell worked with a student to measure and document additions and changes to Building 109 since its “colonialization” in the 1930s. Students aalso worked on the prospect of developing an adaptive reuse plan for the building. Plaster students, led by third-generation plasterer Jerry Milliken, restored the plaster walls, ceiling, and cornice molding in half of the large lounge room in the former officers’ club. The idea was to be able to show a dramatic “before and after” view in a single room. Randolph students from other trade areas such as plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling also came to Historic Fort Wayne to participate.

The initial project, which was funded by a $28,000 grant from the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), taught students the impact that extreme deferred maintenance, industrial pollution, and generations of inappropriate repair techniques can have on our historic buildings – as well as the skills required to restore them. Randolph teachers, counselors, and instructors donated significant time and energy to ensure the success of the program.

“The lack of traditional building craft skills education in schools is a gaping hole in our educational system,” explains Steve Stier, a licensed builder, and former Industrial Arts teacher who coordinates the program called, “Preservation Field Study: Building Arts Lab.” He’s a Board member of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and specializes in historic preservation work.

“We’re trying to teach young people the skills that will prepare them to work on restoration projects, once they complete high school,” he said. Stier is pleased with the interest and ability demonstrated by Randolph students and predicts that there will be rewarding work for them upon graduation.

This project, being one of the first of its kind in the nation, has created great interest in preservation circles. Visitors have included representatives from Preservation Wayne; Royce Yeater, Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Midwest Regional Office; State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway, along with State Historic Preservation Office staff members Martha McFarlane-Faes and Robert McKay; and Deborah Goldstein and Janese Chapman from the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board.

Efforts are under way by Nancy Finegood, Executive Director of the Historic Preservation Network, to secure additional funding that will allow this project to continue. Early preliminary responses are extremely encouraging and everyone involved is determined to continue. The participating students are expanding their career opportunities while they diversify preservation practice and carry it into the next generation.

Hands-on Preservation Education in Battle Creek and the Calhoun Area Career Center

Since the fall of 2008, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network has facilitated bringing instructors and skilled craftsmen to teach the students in the building trades program at the Calhoun Area Career Center (CACC). The educational sessions were conducted both in the classroom and on-site at the Kimball House museum.

The preservation trades program at Calhoun Area Career Center kicked off in November 2008. Deborah Goldstein and Janese Chapman, staff of the Detroit Historic District Advisory Board volunteered to give a power point presentation “Historic Preservation 101” introducing students to the basic concepts of historic preservation. They explained why it is an important component of a sustainable future, and introduced building trades students to the historic preservation industry and the growing job opportunities. All construction trades students at CACC, from the morning and afternoon sessions, attended the presentation.

The introduction to Historic Preservation was followed in January 2009 by a field trip to several Battle Creek historic sites. The tour was lead by Randy Case, AIA, a local architect specializing in historic preservation projects and a Michigan Historic Preservation Network Board Member. The students, who took the tour, were asked to think about whether they would like to attend further sessions to learn more about historic preservation. From this point, only students that expressed special interest in historic preservation were included in program activities. It was made clear that these self-selected students must keep up with all academic work as well as all assigned work in the Construction Trades Program at CACC, in order to attend the historic preservation trades sessions.

Eight Construction Trades students from CACC had a chance to observe historic masonry work on a local historic building

In February 2009, the self-selected students traveled to the Sheppard House, built in 1852 by the first teacher in Battle Creek, to observe preservation work in progress. Jeff Braasch, Project Manager at Building Restoration Inc., taught students that materials for these older buildings were extracted and produced locally. The bricks in the Sheppard house were of local clay fired in kilns nearby. The mortar is even made from local limestone and sand. Putting the local perspective on building materials, gave students an added insight into why “the greenest building is the one that is already built”. As part of the program, the students watched demonstrations in brick wall repairs and work on a fieldstone foundation.

Even more students became interested in the field of preservation, as the school year progressed. Two students from the Computer Aided Design (CAD) class have volunteered along with architect/teacher Randy Case to measure and make drawings of the Sheppard House. The intent is to follow up with a preservation plan for the building.

In early May 2009, 22 students were introduced to issues that they may encounter while working with lead paint in older buildings. Dave Farmer, Certified Lead Inspector for the City of Battle Creek, explained some of the requirements that will be in force by April, 2010. Local artist, art teacher and master painter Craig Bishop shared tips with the students regarding making a house paint job last longer as well as other sage advice from his many years of experience.

Later that month, nine students, lead by CACC instructor Brad VanBuren, installed temporary supports to the Kimball House Museum Porch roof. Two of the main support columns had serious rot at their base. After temporary supports were in place, students removed and inspected the damaged columns. Preservation Carpenter Keith Mengal was on hand to mentor students and point out issues with the columns that needed to be repaired. Keith made the repairs in his shop, and the columns were reinstalled in June 2010.

The first school-year of the Introduction to Historic Preservation Program at CACC has been very successful and all program goals were met. The administrative and teaching staffs, as well as the students, learned a great deal about historic preservation, the necessary skills and the trades. They are now Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s best advocates for the program. Not only did the students learn preservation skills, they were able to give back to their community by helping to restore a valuable local historic resource.

MHPN, SHPO & City of Kalamazoo Collaborate on Ground-Breaking Sustainable Jobs Training

Jobs are tough to find right now, and programs that create sustainable jobs and practice sustainability even rarer. Luckily for Michigan, that’s changing. In a new, first-of-a-kind program, governments and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) began collaborating in Kalamazoo in the summer of 2009.

Prompted in part by Michigan’s high unemployment rate and media reports about the about the energy saving values of “replacement” windows, the MHPN and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) began a conversation about alternatives to both. Overall, building activity rates are down, and many contractors, architects, engineers and others who serve this market are un- or under-employed. At the same time, the preservation community knows that historic building windows in good condition, coupled with good storm windows — are as energy efficient, if not more so, than replacement windows. The problems? Not enough people know about window rehab efficiency as an alternative, and not enough people know how to do the work.

Twenty percent of the U.S. housing stock was built before 1950, and most homes have wood, double-hung windows. Another sustainability take: repairing these windows – rather than replacing them – keeps the old-growth material out of the landfill. Just as important, perhaps even more so today, well-trained craftspeople that rehab wood windows are well paid, and their jobs are local, so much of their income stays in their communities.

The conversation expanded, later including the City of Kalamazoo, and together, the groups conceived a solution. In early June, a call went out across the state, attracting over 30 applicants. MHPN and the City of Kalamazoo chose twelve applicants: from Saginaw, Bay City, Traverse City, Lansing, Detroit, Northville, Ann Arbor, Vandalia, Holland, Zeeland, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo — who received two weeks of free window rehab job training. When completed, they’ll have new, highly-marketable job skills that will help preserve one of Michigan’s greatest assets — its historic building stock.

The collaborators are also hopeful that the trainees will be window rehabilitation ambassadors — helping to counter-balance the general, though false belief that the only road to window energy efficiency is through replacement.

Window rehabbers can make a very good wage: One person can rehab one window into prime operating condition in one work day — at a cost of $300 – $400 – the same or less than that of many replacements. The material cost/window to the contractor is usually less than $25.00. That translates to an hourly wage of as much as $46. Window rehab is work that usually can’t be “outsourced” – and is most often done on-site or nearby. The average investment to start up a window rehab business, including insurance and tools, is probably under $2000, and less if the person already owns some tools.

The trainees selected for the Kalamazoo program were a diverse group in age, race, gender and experience, and all are people who want to rehab old windows themselves, and – the collaborators hope – to teach others to rehab old windows. The training site was a middle-class home in Kalamazoo’s “Vine” local historic district, known for both its student rentals and owner-occupied homes.

This training program has been offered twice again in 2010, and was the recipient of a 2010 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation. MHPN plans to partner with other organizations to conduct additional trainings around the state.

For more information, please email us at info@mhpn.org.