Two local colleges are celebrating National Historic Preservation Week in very different, but very fitting ways.
The Savannah College of Art and Design and Savannah Technical College are each offering a wide slate of free public to mark the occasion, now in its fourth decade.
“Historic Preservation Week was started in the 1970s by the National Trust as a way to say that historic preservation is important to communities,” says Jeanne Lambin, chair of SCAD’s Historic Preservation Department. “It’s wonderful to be a part of a larger national event, and it’s important to reflect that and keep everything open to the public. Without the public, historic preservation doesn’t exist.”
To that end, SCAD is offering a series of lectures by renowned preservation experts through May 8, culminating in a “Potluck Picnic in the Park” Saturday evening in Forsyth Park 5:30–7:30 p.m.
During the Preservation Week events, SCAD will also unveil its brand–new Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation. Located at 439 E. Broad St., the Center is in a former convent and is named for the Savannah–born Supreme Court Justice who studied at the adjacent school run by those nuns.
“It’s really nice entering the building and getting that sense of preservation — it’s amazing that we have facility like this,” says Tiffany Miller, vice president of SCAD’s Student Preservation Association.
SCAD’s offerings include a lecture Friday by Carl Elefante, director of sustainable design at Quinn Evans Architects, and a panel of experts discussing this year’s theme, “Rethinking the Future of the Past.”
Savannah Tech’s Preservation Week events, also all free and open to the public, are more in fitting with that school’s hands–on focus.
Stephen Hartley, chair of Savannah Tech’s Historic Preservation program, says “We basically took what we’re already doing this quarter and opened it up so the public can see what we’re doing. If you say ‘I’m going to Tech for welding’ or ‘I’m going to Tech for air conditioning,’ people know what you’re doing. When you say you’re coming here for Preservation, people say, ‘What exactly is preservation?’”
Hartley explains that while most preservation programs follow the so–called “clean hands” model of advocacy and theory, not enough attention is paid to the literal, physical act of preserving buildings.
“There are plenty of advocates and project managers and people that run historic foundations who fight to save the buildings. That’s great — we absolutely need that part,” says Hartley.
“But when the preservation movement started, we had a group of older workers that could do traditional trades — plasterers, how to fix windows. As more and more schools became involved in preservation, the tradespeople that were able to do that work started to retire or die off,” he says.
“So we’re at a pretty important crossroads. We’ve got a great group of people fighting for buildings, we just don’t have people to fix them. That’s what we need to focus on.”
To that end, Savannah Tech’s Preservation Week offerings include classes on green building techniques, preserving doors and windows, and masonry.
Hartley says that the closest school within 400 miles offering similar classes is Charleston’s American College of the Building Arts, which is not as fully accredited as Savannah Tech but costs much more.
“They’re $23,000 a year. We’re $40 a credit,” he says. “My whole program costs about $4000.”
Society’s current focus on green design and sustainability is part and parcel with historic preservation, though the pursuits aren’t exactly the same.
“We should make things as green as possible, but still have a sense of where we’ve come from,“ says SCAD’s Miller. “We are sustaining the built environment.”
SCAD’s Lambin says making older buildings more green–friendly isn’t necessarily a daunting thing.
“There are so may ways to sympathetically retrofit existing buildings,” she says. “A lot of those are things you don’t see. Insulation is a really great way to add energy savings to an existing building. A lot of people think they need to do something bigger, but you can put some insulation into your attic and those savings will be significant.”
Indeed, retrofitting older buildings can actually be much more sustainable than new eco–friendly construction, largely due to a concept called “embodied energy.”
“For example, if you make a can, you have to mine the aluminum, process it and ship it,” explains Savannah Tech’s Hartley. “The embodied energy would be the total BTUs it takes to produce one can. Building products also all have embodied energy costs.”
“New materials need to be produced, and that production has an environmental impact,” agrees Lambin. “By reusing what’s there and retrofitting it by improving insulation, making sure a building is as weather–tight as possible, is a great way to combine both worlds.”
“We practice whole building recycling,” says Hartley. “People talk about recycling paper and cans. What about buildings? That’s where we’re at.”
Everyone agrees Savannah is a particularly awesome place to hold Preservation Week.
“For me as a professor, it’s incredible to be able to not only say historic preservation is a really important value, but I can say that in a classroom and walk out the door straight into a community that has benefitted so much from historic preservation, and to be working at a college that since the beginning has recognized the value of it,” says Lambin. “It’s something we practice as well as teach.”
Tiffany Miller sums up her experience at SCAD by saying, “The college really is a living laboratory.”
SCAD’s Preservation Week continues through May 8, including a Potluck Picnic Saturday night in Forsyth Park and tours of the new Clarence Thomas Center Saturday from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. Go to scad.edu for a full schedule.
Savannah Tech’s Preservation Week is May 10–13, with over a dozen classes and events all free and open to the public. Go to savannahtech.edu for a full schedule.