PTV Highlights: 2011

Founded in 1980, the Preservation Trust of Vermont is a nonprofit organization that works with local groups to help save and use historic places. Through a variety of programs and services, Preservation Trust builds local capacity and stronger communities, bringing new life to old buildings.

In 2011, the Preservation Trust assisted hundreds of local groups. The 2011 Map of Where We Worked tallies over 425 community projects ranging from helping a farmer in Charleston with a barn condition assessment to helping Putney residents rebuild their downtown general store.

A special emphasis of the Preservation Trust’s work is on downtowns and village centers. Healthy downtowns are a critical part of the essential character of Vermont. In 2011, we worked with 21 organizations working to help keep their downtowns and village centers vibrant. Fifteen Designated Downtowns and Village Centers received tree-planting grants through the Community Forestry Project.

At the same time, we supported the work of 12 local organizations in their opposition to out-of-scale, commercial, sprawl development. The Big Box symbols on the map illustrate where these battles are taking place. Unfortunately, one of these initiatives, the 18-year battle to stop construction of a 147,000 square foot Wal-Mart in St. Albans, was defeated in an August 4th Vermont Supreme Court decision. What is particularly unfortunate is that there is a feasible alternative to locate an 80,000 square foot department store in downtown St. Albans. This solution would have supported local merchants and the local economy while providing access to affordable goods.

We believe that downtowns and village centers thrive when there is a lively mix of civic, commercial, cultural and community gathering places. One current threat is the proposed closure of some Vermont post offices. The Vermont congressional delegates have been working hard on this issue and thankfully there is now a moratorium on closures until May 15, 2012, giving Congress an opportunity to study cost-saving alternatives. The Preservation Trust will continue to work on this issue and share information about what communities can do to try to save their post offices.

Since 2005, the Preservation Trust has partnered with Senator Patrick Leahy on an initiative to provide grant support to key village-scaled gathering places. On November 10th, the Village Revitalization Initiative drew national recognition as it was awarded the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s top award: the Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation. This tremendous honor recognizes the community and economic benefits of the program. During the first six years, the Village Revitalization Initiative, with funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provided grants to 27 Vermont projects with a federal investment of $2,435,000 that helped to leverage more than $27 million in total project costs and create permanent jobs.

In June 2011, the Preservation Trust of Vermont established the Historic Places Revolving Fund with a grant from the 1772 Foundation. Emily Wadhams has been contracted by the Preservation Trust to run the program. The goal of the fund is to acquire options on properties that are threatened in one way or another and then to find new owners and new economic uses for them that will respect the historic nature of the properties. Whether it is a very early Vermont building that has survived for generations or a more recent, yet historically significant structure, these buildings tell Vermont’s story through their architecture and what we know of the lives of people who inhabited them. The Revolving Fund is an exciting tool that will help save endangered historic buildings!

The Preservation Trust of Vermont holds historic preservation easements on over 90 properties around the state of Vermont. Meg Campbell runs the Easement Program and in 2011 provided stewardship visits to the 87 buildings, 2 archaeological sites, and 2 structures. The Preservation Trust solely holds a number of the easements, but the majority of them are co-held with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

The Preservation Trust’s Field Service Program was established in 1997 and remains an important part of our day-to-day work. In 2011, Ann Cousins, Eric Gilbertson, Meg Campbell and Paul Bruhn provided on-site assistance to 236 different community projects across the state. The Field Service staff sometimes recommends a Robert Sincerbeaux Fund Grant when more detailed or specialized technical assistance is needed. Sixty grants were awarded last year for condition and engineering assessments, fundraising consultation, organizational development, and energy assessments—anything that helps to move a project along its timeline.

Paul Bruhn has served as Executive Director since the Preservation Trust’s founding. His passion for Vermont has forged new responses to challenges including the concept of local investing to support critical community enterprises. In 2011, Paul and staff worked with five new Community Supported Enterprises. Paul also spent time working on public policy related to historic preservation, downtowns, and the local economy. At the Statehouse this year, he lobbied for an increase in Designated Downtown and Village Center tax credits and the continued support for historic preservation, housing, conservation and community development programs and grants.

While the staff spends much of their time working in the field, Elise Seraus runs the office and provides critical administrative support. Bill Polk is the financial officer for the Preservation Trust.

Tropical Storm Irene Recovery

Many individuals contributed to help us help with the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. The focus of our work was on covered bridges and the more than 30 village centers and downtowns in Rutland, Washington, Windsor, and Windham Counties that were devastated by Irene. Contributions were bundled with grants from the Newman’s Own Foundation, the Walter Cerf Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation, Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation, and Freeman Foundation, and was used to help communities rehabilitate and rebuild covered bridges and to cover the cost of emergency engineering and architectural assessments as well as providing the funding for small grants to owners of key village center and downtown properties and grant support for several covered bridges. In total, we've committed and expended $230,000 and have $15,000 in reserve for grants to two to three additional efforts.

Here is a description of our flood work that was made possible by our supporters:

In the immediate aftermath of Irene, Ann Cousins who is one of our Field Reps travelled to every affected downtown and village center to get an initial picture of the devastation and scope out possible ways of how we might be able to help. We then organized a community by community, building by building survey in all of the affected communities concentrating on village centers and downtowns. As the survey was being done, volunteers handed out information on first steps to recovery and issues like mold remediation. The volunteers also encouraged property owners to register with FEMA. The volunteers identified buildings that needed an emergency engineering or architectural assessments. We were very concerned that there might be a rush to unnecessarily demolish significant historic buildings.

These assessments were a critical strategy in avoiding inappropriate demolitions. Though there are still a handful of buildings that are still at risk, the assessments helped what could have been yet further disasters. The survey work identified over 700 flood-damaged historic buildings just in downtowns and village centers. This data helped us get a $125,000 grant from the Freeman Foundation to support our flood recovery grant-making even though none of the affected communities were located in the Foundation's Northeast Kingdom geographic focus. The data also helped our Congressional Delegation as they went about the business of finding as much federal support for Vermont as possible.

We also organized three highly successful workshops on flood mitigation and flood proofing. These workshops provided good guidance to architects, engineers, local officials, and property owners on how to more safely rebuild and minimize damage from future floods. A total of $21,000 has been committed from our total $230,000 for the assessments and workshop speakers. We used our General Fund budget to cover our staffing costs for all of our survey and support work in the affected communities.

The sight of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge being washed down the Williams River has been viewed 504,000 times on You Tube. It stimulated many of the individual gifts we received, and many of those gifts asked that their contributions be used to support the rebuilding and rehabilitation of the damaged covered bridges. Fortunately, the bridges have also received significant federal and state funding. At least one, the Taftsville Covered Bridge, will be repaired completely with federal and state funds. We used $30,000 of the total available to use to help cover the local share of the cost of rebuilding bridges in Quechee, Guildford, Rockingham (3), Shrewsbury, West Windsor, and West Arlington.

Shrewsbury 1880 Brown Bridge
West Windsor 1919 Bowers Bridge
Rockingham Bartonsville Bridge
Rockingham Hall Bridge
Rockingham 1870 Worrall Bridge
Guilford 1870 Green River Bridge
West Arlington 1852 Bridge
Queechee Covered Bridge

The balance of the funding we received has been used to make modest $5,000 and $10,000 grants to nonprofits, municipalities, and key community gathering places that are located in downtowns and village centers. These grants haven't solved all of anyone's financial problems, but they help and provide an important dose of moral support. Here is the list of building recovery efforts that were funded:

Latchis Hotel, Brattleboro
Dot’s Restaurant, Wilmington
Wilmington Baptist Church
Gethsemane Church, Proctorsville
Green Cup, Waitsfield
Alchemist, Waterbury
Bartleby’s Books, Wilmington
North Star Bowl, Wilmington
Wilmington Municipal Building
Watershed Tavern, Brandon
Briggs Carriage House, Brandon
Conant Block, Brandon
Crows Corner Bakery and Café, Proctorsville
Hancock Hotel
American Precision Museum, Windsor
Weston Playhouse
Bridgewater Mill
Avrad’s, Waterbury
Waterbury Methodist Church
Memorial Center for the Arts, Wilmington
Weston Playhouse Theater Company

And finally, and to complete the picture of our work, we spent much time and energy on two other aspects of the Recovery: the State Office Complex in Waterbury, and the Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit Program. The possibility that state employees would not return to Waterbury had enormous implications for that community and their historic downtown. In the end, the Governor and the Legislature produced the right solution for Waterbury and for the good and effective operation of state government. We also worked with the Shumlin Administration to increase the funds available for the Downtown and Village Tax Credit program. A total of $500,000 in new tax credits were directed to the rebuilding of historic buildings in flood affected communities.

We remain grateful for the generosity that allows us to help.

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