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Posted 1/23/2013

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By Bill Dowell
Seattle District Public Affairs

Historic buildings and structures are part of the nation’s heritage and legacy. Preserving and protecting them means following preservation standards which should, and in the case of federal actions must, be followed.

Restoring, rehabilitating or preserving these resources helps shrink carbon footprints, conserve materials and energy, and reduce landfill waste.

For federal installation property planners and facility managers a big question can be, "Where do I start?"

The answer is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Technical Center of Expertise, or TCX, for the Preservation of Historic Structures and Buildings located at the Seattle District. The Center’s staff offers the Corps, military installations and federal agencies best practices and informed decision making for historic structures.

"There is great diversity among the older buildings and structures Corps districts, federal properties and (Defense Department) installations must account for," TCX Program Manager Lauren McCroskey said.

When the Corps’ Huntington District acquired mitigation lands along the Ohio River, the parcel included the General Albert Gallatin Jenkins House. The 1830 Virginia farm was constructed by slaves who hewed local timbers, pegged them together and laid up handmade bricks and stone. Years of ill-advised repairs and neglect marred the home’s historic features and damaged materials

Through a series of site investigations, public meetings and coordination, the TCX staff crafted a plan to help the District meet its historic preservation responsibilities.

A growing focus of the TCX is the promotion of state-of-the-industry technology for the treatment of historic materials. The Center’s recently revised specification for repair and restoration of historic masonry and mortar exceeds standard guidance and technical bulletins provided by other preservation agencies. This push for excellence generated a forensic investigation of the Jenkins House structural components using instruments developed in Europe and rarely used in the U.S.

"Areas of the house were evaluated in systematic fashion to determine structural load bearing capacity," McCroskey said. "Ultrasonic waves were used to measure the continuity and stability of wood fabric. The wood substrate’s resistance levels were also probed."

Test data was compiled and analyzed, yielding an accurate picture of the home’s structural performance. District managers will use the findings as they negotiate a future use and stewardship of the building.

The Center’s staff applied similar techniques in a recent study of historic stone components that once graced entrances in Arlington National Cemetery. Originally salvaged during demolition of the War Department Building in the 1870s, the individual pieces of columns and cornices were tested. Soon, the reconstructed gates may once again honor those who pass through.

The foundation of the Center’s work is the National Historic Preservation Act, which directs federal agencies to act responsibly when their actions affect historic buildings, structures or landscapes.

To help accomplish this, the Center offers a three-fold approach: keep property owners in compliance with federal historic preservation laws and guidelines; use creative planning to ensure that mission and project goals are met in a timely manner; and preserve and protect significant structures by applying high standards and best practices.

The Center also acts as a clearing house for technical information. Depending on campus or installation needs, the TCX staff offers tailored training for property and facility managers, planners and cultural resource staffs.