All eyes in the class were on Amanda Trienens as she applied a mild acidic solution onto a piece of discolored old stonework. “Cleaning can really make for a ‘wow’ factor,” she said, as the solution lifted away years of grime.
Six men and three women were with her in the basement of the S.T.E.A.M Garden – a maker space and learning lab on Central Avenue in Albany – attending a certificate course that explores techniques for cleaning and restoration of historic masonry.
A consultant on restoration projects including the U.S. Supreme Court, the original World Trade Center site in New York City, and inventor Thomas Edison’s original stucco garage in West Orange, N.J., Trienens was a visiting expert in class that night. She is founder and principal conservator at Columbia County-based consulting firm Cultural Heritage Conservation LLC.
Her experience and instruction were part of the Traditional Trades Program, which is currently running in the Capital Region as a partnership with New York State Parks, Hudson Valley Community College’s Workforce Development Institute and the Historic Albany Foundation.
Aimed at training more people to better handle restoration projects in older buildings, the program was developed in 2017 by two staff at Parks: Elizabeth Martin, an architect with the Capital Program, and Dan McEneny, a program coordinator at the Division for Historic Preservation.
Through partnerships, the program offers courses to the general public in rehabilitation of historic wooden windows, preservation carpentry and woodworking, and historic plaster repair, with future offerings in roofing repair, and weatherization of historic properties. In addition, last year Martin oversaw the offering of the masonry course for staff at the Palisades Park Region, a new expansion of the program.
“New York has been undergoing a boom in the restoration of historic properties and needs more skilled craftspeople who know how to perform this kind of specialized work,” said McEneny.
“Billions of economic development dollars are being spent in New York, particularly upstate, on preservation projects, and this translates into local jobs in construction, new markets for local businesses, and bolsters the revitalization of villages, towns and cities,” he said.
The growing need for these skilled workers was identified in the 2015-2020 NYS Historic Preservation Plan, after community stakeholders told planners that finding such workers was becoming more difficult.
“There are many opportunities in the historic trades right now,” said Jude Cleary, the HVCC instructor running the historic masonry course. “These opportunities are only going to increase as we employ restoration programs on existing buildings for environmental reasons as well as historical reasons.”
A manager with Louis C. Allegrone Inc., a third-generation masonry company from Lenox, Mass., Cleary has worked on restoration projects including the grand staircase at the Empire State Plaza, the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, the Tower of Victory at the Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park.
At the course, Albany resident Kenneth Arrington said he hoped this training could lead him to a new job.
He had worked as an operating engineer for heavy equipment and as a building maintenance mechanic before recently losing his position. Officials at his local unemployment insurance office had told him about the Historic Trades Program.
For Tony Mariano, a retired pharmacist who lives in Albany’s Center Square neighborhood, the course is a way to fuel his passion to care for his historic home, and to help his neighbors do the same. “I found out about this after my wife saw an ad on Facebook,” said Mariano, who has taught himself plumbing and electrical work.
“I would say that I am a skills collector,” said Dave Publow, a South Troy resident and former bicycle mechanic who is gutting and restoring a former commercial building in that neighborhood for potential use as a print studio and incubator space.
Publow has already taken the carpentry and window restoration courses through the Historic Trades Program. “I really wanted to leap into this with both feet,” he said.
As Susan Sfarra applied cleaning solution to a piece of stonework, she said her neighbors in Schenectady’s Historic Stockade District encouraged her to take the course.
“Many of us in the Stockade are worried about a lack of qualified workers,” said Sfarra, who owns a brick home dating to 1838, and who also is the daughter and granddaughter to bricklayers and masons.
“My plan is to take all the courses. When you own an older home, it is a privilege, and you really are a caretaker,” she said.
The Historic Trades Program will help preserve more historic homes and neighborhoods, said Historic Albany Foundation Executive Director Pamela Howard.
“Historic Albany Foundation has been pleased to be a partner in the Historic Preservation Trades Program with HVCC since the beginning. Having skilled and trained preservation trades people is critical to the preservation of our historic homes and neighborhoods,” she said. “In addition, introducing a new professional audience to our Architectural Parts Warehouse is critical for both incoming and outgoing salvaged items to keep them from the landfills and getting them back into local homes.”
Find more courses in the Historic Trades Program in the Albany region here.
Courses on historic window restoration are also being held this month in the Buffalo region, sponsored by State Parks and First Niagara.
Read Hudson Valley Community College’s announcement on the Historic Trades Program.
Cover Shot: Kenneth Arrington (left), and Tony Mariano, watch with another other student as Amanda Trienens demonstrates a cleaning technique. (All photos-NYS Parks)
By Brian Nearing, Parks Deputy Public Information Officer