Class shows participants how to preserve the past

In Harford, students are hands-on with historic preservation.

July 31, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Every day, historic buildings are demolished without any documentation that they existed. Their history - like the rubble -- disappears over time. In response, students enrolled in Harford Community College's Building Preservation and Restoration program are lining up to do their part to change that.

"The college program is helping to put a more visible face on preservation efforts," said Maryanna Skowronski of the Historical Society of Harford County. "A lot of people are intimidated by preservation and restoration, and the students are showing them what the average person can do."

Since the program's inception in September 2003, students have undertaken numerous jobs at historic sites, served as consultants to owners of historic property and gained state and national recognition for their efforts.

The seed for the program was planted by Rusty Stephens, a former vice president of the college, and Rhonda Deeg, program coordinator, was hired to create it.

Deeg designed the two-year program, which focuses on preservation and restoration of historic buildings and includes hands-on work at historic sites throughout the state. She said she chose the teaching method to give students practical knowledge to use in the field.

"I've always been an advocate of hands-on training. It's the best way to learn," Deeg said. "Working with real materials is more dynamic than sitting in the classroom and reading about it."

Deeg said she gives her students a start-to-finish experience.

"The students learn sequentially," she said. "For example, I start out by talking to them about how to repair a slate roof. Then they learn how to repair a roof and how to cut the slate. Then, we go out to a designated site and they actually do repairs on a roof using slate. There's no better way to teach these concepts."

Her students agree. Enrollment in the program has increased from eight students to 93, and many of the current students say the hands-on site work is what sold them on the program.

"I've always had a real short attention span, so hands-on programs work for me," said student Kelly Lubinski of Bel Air. "I know this experience is going to give me the upper hand when I transfer to a four-year college. I'll understand the terms and concepts and I will know how to apply them."

In some cases, students are already using skills they have learned on the job. Brian Durnan of Forest Hill does masonry and roofing work. His boss consults with him on preservation issues.

"He takes my advice," Durnan said. "It feels good to know he trusts me to do the right thing. I'm not afraid to tackle projects."

In addition to learning skills necessary for his job, Durnan said, he is in it to help save history.

"There's so much history out there and people don't realize it," he said. "A lot of them aren't knowledgeable about history so we have a lot of convincing to do and a lot of work to make sure it isn't lost."

In the fall, students will adopt the Aberdeen Train Depot as their semester project. The depot was a day away from demolition in June 2003 when an agreement was reached between the Historical Society of Harford County and CSX Transportation to delay the destruction. The students will look into fundraising and will research and analyze the station for restoration needs and possibilities for future use.

Other projects undertaken by the students include the Hays-Heighe house, structures in Jerusalem Mill, dry stone fences at the Steppingstone Museum, structures at Fort Delaware and barn surveys throughout Maryland.

The historic site work is coordinated through nonprofit organizations. The barns are the only exception. To get barns to survey, Deeg advertises periodically, and she receives several calls a day, she said.

Some might not consider old barns worth saving, but the students believe they're important to maintaining the integrity of Maryland history.

"Most people don't realize that barns were typically built before the main house," said student Jennifer Gerdom of Aberdeen. "We want to prove that the barns have importance. We want to provide documentation of where it was and why it mattered so its history isn't lost."

As a result of surveying the barns, Deeg said, many of her students have a similar appreciation for the importance of the dilapidated old buildings.

"One of my students told me she'll never drive by an old barn again without appreciating what went into building it," Deeg said.

Participants in the program have been recognized in the county as an important resource.

"Let's say Joe Citizen has a barn built in the 1800s and wants to know what to do with it. He can call Rhonda and she'll take her students out and do a survey on the property and give them advice," said Skowronski of the historical society. "What they're doing is saving thousands of dollars for people and organizations that don't have enough resources to do all these projects. Their work is the difference between daily demolitions of historic properties and saving them."

For students such as Adrienne Endres of Bel Air, recognition and respect from professionals in the field, including Skowronski, sold her on the program.

Endres said the program is widely known in Harford County and that she is enjoying the recognition it is receiving in the state and nationwide.

"I attended a function in Baltimore for the restoration of the Hippodrome," said Endres. "The people there were very impressed that a community college would even have such a program.

"Then, when I attend national conventions, they are amazed to see a community college represented. People are coming in from out of state to go to our program. There are only a few programs out there in this field and, as far as I know, there are no other community colleges with a similar hands-on type program. The word is definitely getting out."

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