MAINTENANCE OF HISTORIC STRUCTURES
I. The Process of Historic Structures Maintenance
In all maintenance it is desirable and efficient to achieve a high percentage of routine, preventive maintenance as opposed to emergency or nonroutine maintenance. Most successful maintenance programs adhere to this principle and seek relative percentages that are high on the routine side and low on the nonroutine side. Different tasks have different standards but in Industrial Plant Maintenance (that portion of maintenance that is perhaps most studied, quantified, and documented) rules of thumb are that 75% of the work should be of the routine variety.
I believe that this principle can and ought to be applied to the maintenance of historic structures. A review of maintenance of historic structures in the North Atlantic Region, however, would lead me to believe that frequently we are doing catch up maintenance, emergency maintenance, and major rehabilitation maintenance. The rest of these remarks will explore the reason I believe that is so.
The objective of Historic Structures Maintenance should be: to achieve a high percentage of routine maintenance and minimize nonroutine maintenance.
We're not there. Why?
A. Local Capability vs. External Advice
Refer to Figures 1 and 2. They are an attempt to diagram the kind of maintenance and the type of knowledge required to accomplish them. In three out of four instances local capability is more likely than external capability. Only in the case where on-site skill is lacking and the task is non-routine should external advice be a requirement.
Since a routine program requires a high degree of local on-site capability, we need to look at the present level of on-site capability in the National Park Service.
B. Problem: Local Capability Lacking
Frequently in surveying the maintenance skills and experience available in our sites containing historic structures, we find a distressing lack of skill in the techniques of historic structures maintenance. As a result routine work is less likely to get done. If discrimination skill is lacking, then the results of actions on historic structures can be counter productive. I will expand on these remarks in the second section of this paper called the Human Side of Historic Structures Maintenance.
We can increase the skills of on-site maintenance personnel through three methods. 1. We can train the people we have. 2. We can hire new people who bring the skills with them. Although many of the skills required are not frequently available on the open market. 3. We can increase and improve the reference material available (HRMP's, Structures Reports, Preservation Guides).
The external remedies seem contradictory at first glance. One possible remedy would be to provide more experts, that is, increase the availability of expert advice through an expanded number of historic architects, craftsmen, and artisans. In addition, it is possible with the same number of experts to increase the frequency with which they are used. Frequently a phone call will provide the information that on-site maintenance people need. Too often this avenue of advice is forgotten and the on-site visit is substituted when not actually required.
Conversely, we can lessen the need for expert advice if we increase the body of knowledge available to on-site maintenance people. Other sections of this conference take up the subject of the Historic Resource Management Plan, Historic Structure Preservation Guides, and Historic Structure Reports. I will not go into them in detail here. My point is if all these things were available the necessity for having a specific kind of knowledge is greatly reduced and on-site maintenance people can use them as a reference.
II. The Human Side of Historic Structures Maintenance
A. The Current Status of On-Site Maintenance People
In this section, I am going to throw out some remarks to achieve a juxtaposition that results in inaction on the part of maintenance people regarding historic structures maintenance.
Frequently, on-site maintenance people lack discrimination skills and the knowledge of the special techniques required for skillful historic structures maintenance. A word about what I call discrimination skills. In reference to Figure No. 1, the discrimination skill is simply the answer to the questions, can I do it myself?, or do I require additional advice? Frequently, I believe that maintenance people do not ask this question before beginning a task. The question is critical since effective action depends on the correct answer.
Most people in maintenance crews have done work similar to the work done on historic structures.
Maintenance of historic structures frequently is somewhat different than other maintenance work but it is similar in character, e.g., fixing a leak in a roof is probably something a maintenance employee would know, however, fixing a leak in a historic roof might be something quite different if it is done properly.
All are being paid to work (reward systems for working).
B. Current Status of Off-Site Experts
Expert advice frequently is not available. This is particularly true if maintenance people wait for an actual visit by a historic architect.
C. Rewards and Punishments
Because of the similarity of work on historic structures cited above maintenance people will frequently do it themselves. This is consistent with their background and with the reward systems set up by the work environment.
Experts frequently criticize their work post facto (this turns the reward system into a punishment system).
The experts view the maintenance man as insensitive.
The maintenance man views work on historic structures as threatening. The result of these two views is frequently that no work is done on historic structures.
E. Simplistic Remedies or Oiling the Gears
It is extremely important given this set of conditions that the relationship between experts and on-site maintenance people be a helpful one. I recognize that this is a very simplistic statement but too frequently experts have been put in the position of being off-site critics and after the fact ones at that. Maintenance people who are trying to be helpful but lack the skills or knowledge have their reward and punishment systems turned inside out and frequently wind up not acting at all instead of acting in a positive manner.
The relationship between professionals and park operating personnel should then be a positive one. I believe that can be accomplished. It will take good will on the part of both disciplines. But gears run better with oil on them than they do with sand thrown into them.
Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009