Some people refer to historical-preservation boards as “hysterical” boards, said architect Ted Strosser, who was hired by Hollidaysburg Borough to create a new historic district homeowners’ manual.
“They think, ‘They’re going to pick the color for my house,'” he said. “But they’re not the color police.”
Strosser said there are strong misconceptions about historic districts and the homes that occupy them, with one of the major issues with home renovations dealing with people who want to replace their wooden windows.
Many people get sold on the idea of vinyl by a salesman who convinces them a home will be better insulated and windows will last longer if the original, time-period appropriate wood is replaced, Strosser said.
But according to Strosser and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Technical Preservation Services, wooden windows – when repaired and maintained correctly – will have a greater life than vinyl and be more energy efficient.
A 2011 study by the Center for Resource Conservation tested the energy efficiency and economy on 11 different preservation treatment options and compared them with a new vinyl window. Most of the proposed treatments were able to outperform vinyl.
And wooden windows have the additional benefit of contributing to a historic building’s character as well.
But more important than approving or denying building permits, a historic-preservation board is about providing residents with expertise and advice, Strosser said.
Its members don’t exist to dictate to homeowners, he said, but rather are there as “wealth of information and knowledge” and are a resource people should take advantage of to maintain their home’s or business’ economic value.
Hollidaysburg’s Main Street Manager Jamie Baser stressed that neither the review board nor the preservation commission are decision-making bodies.
The preservation commission has an 11-member body whose purpose is to survey Hollidaysburg’s historic resources and promote public awareness of the historic value of the district.
The review board is comprised of seven of the preservation commission’s members and has a primary responsibility to review applications for renovation or demolition in the historic district.
When someone wants to make a change to their home, they come before the review board, which is required to have a licensed real estate broker, a registered architect and a borough code official among its members.
“A lot of the things people want to do [to remodel], it’s a very easy process,” Baser said.
Borough resident Marie Little and her husband, John, helped get Hollidaysburg on the National Register of Historic Places and has been involved in preservation efforts throughout the borough for years.
She said Hollidaysburg’s historic district is “a place that needs to have something said about it.”
People who own historic homes need to have the sensitivity to maintain their home’s outward appearance while being able to make necessary updates inside so they can “live in the 21st century,” she added.
Little has owned her home on Walnut Street for more than 25 years and has updated and renovated throughout the years to make the home livable for her family while keeping its exterior true to the time period in which it was built.
Little is among the community members who are active in historic preservation, but Baser said many residents have told her they didn’t know they lived in the historic district.
Having a new user-friendly homeowners’ manual will help, she said.
The borough obtained a $10,000 Keystone Historic Preservation Grant through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation.
The lion’s share was put toward hiring Strosser, who owns an architectural firm in Lewisburg that deals mainly with preservation, with the leftover money to be used for printing.
Strosser’s portfolio includes restoration of Bucknell University’s campus theater and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Danville.
Strosser said his main objective for the new manual was to better explain and “demystify” the application process to residents who want to renovate their building.
The 1994 edition of the book is 50 pages long and features a historic district map and lists the prominent architectural styles found throughout Hollidaysburg. At the end are examples of building material options, examples of acceptable and not acceptable changes and a list of outside resources.
Baser said the old manual provided a lot of information, but the new version will provide more current information, a step-by-step process of applying for building or demolition permits and will be available online so people can more easily access its resources.
Little said people can do research on their own, or hire someone familiar with their home’s architectural style. That way, they can find the right materials to keep with the time period – or at least give the appearance of it when the right materials aren’t available, or not within someone’s budget.
“People think [the homeowners’ manual is] a restrictive manual, but it’s educational,” Little said, and people should not be put off by the guidelines.
“There are choices out there, you just have to know where to find them.”
Before a final draft is made, borough officials plan to hold a public meeting 5 p.m. Thursday at the Municipal Building to get public input on what people would like to see in the new manual.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.