In mid-March, in Greenfield, over forty people gathered for the most recent meeting of the Western Massachusetts Historical Commission Coalition (WMHCC), to learn more about why and how to repair historic windows. Attendees included members of local historical commissions, historical societies, representatives from municipal government, architects, planners, professionals working in historic trades, and preservation advocates. The WMHCC, organized in 2014, meets 2-3 times each year and offers opportunities for members of local historical commissions, and other historic preservation advocates, to network with colleagues and explore current challenges and successes in the field. Meeting locations are rotated within western MA. The WMHCC Steering Committee includes representatives from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Massachusetts Historical Commission and Preservation Massachusetts.
The meeting featured presentations by Jade Mortimer of Heartwood Window Restoration and Pam Howland of Old Window Workshop, as well as case studies presented by Ben Murphy of DevelopSpringfield and George Dole of Jones, Whitsett Architects.
Jade presented the philosophical, environmental and practical reasons to repair rather than replace historic windows and talked about her work in the field. She pointed out that the original windows were built for your house, contain old growth wood which will last longer than wood harvested today, and with maintenance and repair, historic windows can continue to be used for hundreds of years, unlike vinyl replacement windows which will fail to function and need to be replaced on a regular basis. Jade encouraged attendees to learn how to repair their own windows.
Pam talked about the work of the Old Window Workshop, a woman-owned, worker-owned business that has the mission of training woman to do work that can both sustain their families as well as improve their community. Women’s work in the preservation of historic windows is both an environmental necessity and an economic opportunity. Work in the trades, such as window restoration, can offer women the opportunity to earn a living wage. In her work, Pam sees historic windows as the most vulnerable part of our built environment and sees an environmental imperative to retain historic windows. The Old Window Workshop alone has kept 10 tons of glass and wood out of landfills.
In his Window Preservation Case Studies, Ben shared his nonprofit organization’s experiences on three projects, the Trinity block, The Female Seminary and the Merrick-Phelps House. These projects all included restoring historic windows as part of the adaptive reuse and restoration project. He shared his organization’s positive experience of hiring skilled tradespeople. The organization was able to demonstrate that it is both possible and preferable to retain original windows in the restoration and adaptive reuse of historic properties. Ben also shared his thoughts that historic windows are significant, sustainable and beautiful.
George Dole, a member of the firm Jones Whitsett Architects, used his firm’s work on the renovations of the Whatley Town Hall, to discuss both the public bidding process, which governs work undertaken by municipalities, as well as the repair of 27 historic windows which is a component of the Whately project. The building is a contributing structure within the Whately Center National Register Historic District. In 2017, the Town of Whately was awarded a MHC MPPF grant in support of the project, with a significant focus of the grant being funds to restore the windows. When the restored windows are reinstalled, appropriate storm windows will be installed to both protect the restored windows and for energy conservation. From his experience on this project, George shared that, “Historic window restoration costs are similar to installing new “historically accurate” wood windows in an existing building”.
One meeting attendee from Northfield said, “I found the conference to be very helpful”. Another person from Granby shared, “The meeting on Thursday was very helpful for Joel and me as we are currently involved in restoring, repairing, and painting the windows inside to prepare for the glazing and painting of the exterior this Spring”.
Handouts from the March 15 meeting are available at https://www.preservationmass.org/windows and several of the presentations are available at https://www.preservationmass.org/wmhcc
If you are interested in being added to the email list to receive notices about upcoming WMHCC meetings and other preservation opportunities please contact me at email@example.com The WMHCC serves as a model of a regional forum for bringing together preservation advocates. Interested in forming a coalition in your area of the state, please contact me to discuss the possibilities. We look forward to hearing from you.