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Preserving History and Maintaining Schedule: Working with DHR

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As cities expand and neighborhoods thrive, it’s critical to keep the integrity of historic buildings while also modernizing them to the times and preserving them for the future.

When owners of historic structures make upgrades to these buildings, significant state and federal tax credits (25% of eligible rehabilitation expenses for state credit and 20% of eligible rehabilitation expenses for federal credit) are available for eligible expenses. However, earning them requires working hand-in-hand with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).

Hourigan Construction has served as construction manager on numerous DHR projects, most recently a seminary in Richmond’s Northside. The project at Union Theological Seminary began as a 33,000-square-foot interior renovation to be completed over the course of 11 months. The project included a complete life safety replacement, with added security, fire alarms and sprinklers; a full-service commercial kitchen; elevator upgrades; and an ornamental stair glass railing between its café and basement. Additional funds were available for exterior improvements to the facility – a new slate roof and windows, which added to the original scope of work.

DHR is committed to preserving the architectural and historical integrity of buildings, both inside and out, while updating structures to the times (such as compliance with ADA). The role of DHR is an important one to preserve the character of our state’s history. The agency’s involvement is important for the greater good, but will nonetheless require additional time and approvals to otherwise standard construction processes and sequencing. In order to ensure success in your historic preservation process, you should consider the following:

Talk early with approving bodies

Once the owner’s requirements are known, it’s important to sit down with DHR and the city – the two approving bodies – and understand those organizations’ expectations and suggestions to ensure the project moves as quickly as possible. Materials that will pass one agency may not with the other. Establishing a relationship up front keeps things progressing down the road.

Hire a historic preservation consultant

Bringing in a historic preservation consultant will provide both owner and contractors with a trusted resource for research and guidance. The consultant can identify significant features that require preservation along with strategies for development.

 Watch the clock

Before work begins, owners must submit a phasing plan to show all work that will be completed during the project. It’s important to account time for material and process approvals, which typically take a minimum of 30 days (but can last months). If possible, try to involve the construction management company in the process early. Owners and architects often work hand-in-hand to choose and match materials, and many of these finishes are chosen before the contractor is involved. With DHR projects, the earlier the contractor can play a role, the quicker the project will move.

Virtual construction modeling can help owners, architects and builders identify and rework issues before the build – and keep on schedule to a speedy approval.

Understand that matching finishes pose challenges

Much of a DHR approval comes down to matching older, outdated materials to modern finishes that offer additional protection and material life.

Windows are character-defining features that must be properly rehabilitated to give them long and sustainable service lives. Many DHR projects run into bottlenecks when windows need replacing, as they did at Union. Divided light windows at the seminary required matching the mullions and muntins that make up the window grids (Mullions are the horizontal or vertical beams between adjoining windows; muntins are the smaller strips of wood that divide the panes). All told, it took three months for Union’s roof and windows to be approved – a quick turnaround, thanks to the collaboration with the preservation consultant and communications with DHR and the city.

The seminary also needed a new slate roof, which required inspecting the materials to ensure a match to its historic look, feel, and color. New copper flashing was also added to provide greater protection.

Interiors aren’t overlooked, either. Walls, faucets, transoms (beams separating the door from windows above), ceiling heights, archways, ductwork, sprinklers and mechanical systems were all inspected and approved to ensure consistency with the historic preservation.

Historic preservation enriches our lives in both tangible and intangible ways, and keeps us connected to our heritage. Rehabilitation is good for the economy, too, creating jobs, new commercial and residential spaces, and additional tax revenues. So while preservation may take time, the long-term impact is worthwhile for everyone involved.

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