Playing a Role in Historic Preservation: As It Looks to the Future, Career and Technical Education Maintains a Connection with the Past by Helping to Save Our Heritage through Historic Preservation

By Gibbs, Hope J. | Techniques, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Playing a Role in Historic Preservation: As It Looks to the Future, Career and Technical Education Maintains a Connection with the Past by Helping to Save Our Heritage through Historic Preservation


Gibbs, Hope J., Techniques


Columbia University offered the nation's first degree in historic preservation in the early 1970s. Almost overnight, similar programs began springing up from coast to coast. This was one factor that led the National Trust for Historic Preservation to sponsor a higher education study group to examine preservation academics and make suggestions to the National Trust. The group recommended the formation of an association of preservation educators. This was the birth of the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) and the development of guidelines for minimum standards in preservation education degree programs. Today, the NCPE has more than 50 member institutions across the nation offering academic programs in historic preservation.

As with the building trades, there is a shortage of the skilled labor force to fill the anticipated vacancies that will be brought about by the retirement of today's labor pool. This situation is compounded by the fact that very specialized training is required to produce first-rate historic preservation technicians.

"The problem is exponentially worsened when dealing with historic buildings," says David Mertz, chair emeritus for the NCPE, "because of the level of skill, experience and critical thinking skills necessary to understand, recreate or restore historic elements."

Belmont Technical College

Over the past 15 years, Mertz has also served as a consultant to the St. Clairsville Board of Architectural Review in Ohio, home to Belmont Technical College. According to its Web site (www.btc.edu), the school is "recognized nationally as the leader in providing hands-on training in the preservation trades." Mertz is currently the vice-chair of Ohio Heritage, has served on the Board of Advisors for the Preservation Leadership Institute (a division of the National Trust), and has held the position of vice president for the Ohio Preservation Alliance. This level of involvement has made his role as director of the Building Preservation Technology Program at Belmont Technical College (BTC) invaluable.

When the program was established in 1988 with a grant from the Ohio Department of Education, BTC hired Mertz to fine tune the curriculum. The first classes began in the winter of 1989, and he has been there since then.

"Our program has helped establish similar programs," says Mertz. Harford Community College in Maryland and the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif., are among the many schools that have benefited from BTC's pioneering spirit and Mertz's passion for historic preservation.

The BTC program offers a rigorous academic curriculum working toward an associate of applied science degree. As stated on the BTC Web site, the program is built on a foundation of preservation technology and theory, allowing the student to explore various trades used in preserving historic buildings and providing the practical application of theoretical knowledge through real-world experience. BTC's approach to historic preservation education won it the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office Public Education and Awareness Award in 1994.

Core subjects include composition and technical writing, natural science and math, but the true flavor in this area of study is found in courses such as Building Pathology, Model and Mold Making and Historic Research. Herein lies the essence of historic preservation.

Students may use the technology of today to study, but they must immerse themselves in the craftsmanship of years gone by. Their love of history and its preservation through restoration of old homes is among the many draws to pursuing a career in this field.

"Most of our students are drawn to objects of antiquity and love older homes," says Mertz. "They have a pretty good sense of history and are fairly artistic. They enjoy and receive great satisfaction from working with their hands as well as their minds."

Mertz has written a wonderful article titled, "So You Want to Be a Professional Preservationist? …

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