Thursday, December 30, 2010

When it snows, ain't it thrillin'...

Unless that snow is accompanied by blowing winds and sub-zero temperatures, and a death-defying (at least in my mind) ride down I-90 and 787 on highway roads that were of the “Make-Your-Own-Car-Lane” variety.

Monday, December 27th – a day that will live on in infamy, (once again, at least in my mind). It began at 6am when my husband roused me gently from sleep (with a shove to the side and a growled “Get up! The alarm went off!”). It took me a few moments to open my eyes and remember where I was. But once I did I bounced out of bed, fingers and toes crossed in the hopes that either the snow was sooooo bad that nobody would ever venture out in it or that the weather forecasters had once again made a mountain out of a couple inches of snow. Neither hope won out. The snow was not so bad that nobody would ever venture out in it and the forecasters had been pretty accurate in their predictions. My husband obligingly got out of bed and dressed, as did I, in preparation for snow shoveling. Never fear concerned readers, my mother-in-law, moved to action by my pathetic admission of bootlessness in my last post, gifted me with a pair of bona fide boots for Christmas. That was the one highlight of my morning – slipping my feet in to nice warm boots and having said footsies stay dry while I got a cardio workout shoveling snow. The snow wasn’t too heavy but there was a lot of it. A lot of it. I paused for a moment in wonder as a backhoe made a third trip around my street to clear it of snow. A backhoe? Things must be bad out there.

By 7am the driveway had been shoveled and the cars cleared of snow. Mother Nature had thoughtfully deposited another ½ inch of snow on the space already cleared. I walked back inside, checked weather reports one more time, praying for some statement prepared by the Government of New York State advising New Yorkers in general, but Historic Cherry Hill’s Communications Coordinator in particular, to stay off the roads. A call from the Director came and like a child waiting breathlessly for news that school was cancelled, I leaped at the sound and answered. No such luck. Apparently in the real world, people with jobs are expected to go to work. Crazy, crazy notion. The word from the Boss was that Joe the Hammer was coming in to work. Since I had foolishly volunteered to take the early shift for once (of course on the first major snowfall of the year) it looked like the restoration project, like the postal service, would be stopped by nothing - I was heading for work. My husband, stood with concern, watching my departure. Or at least I thought it was concern until I realized he was putting together the new snow rake he had just got and that his back was actually to me.

The roads were delightful, and I maintained a bare-knuckled grip on the steering wheel all the way to work. Once I arrived, after driving at a breakneck 30 mph on the highway I found that although the driveway had been plowed at some point, it was buried once again and that the city’s plows had blocked up both entrances. Luckily I had the foresight to carry a shovel with me, more because I thought for sure I would need it to dig myself out of a ditch, but happy to use it in a less dire situation. As I stood at the base of the driveway, shoveling out a big enough space to pull my car off of South Pearl Street, Joe the Hammer came driving up. With his window down he shouted across the road to me “We only got 1 ½ inches of snow where I live.” Which apparently is on the equator. With The Hammer’s arrival as my relief pitcher, so to speak, he took over the shoveling for me while I waded up the driveway and dug out the door to the museum to get inside and find another snow shovel. By the time I had located one in the outside ladder room, The Hammer had finished shoveling and he moved my car into the parking lot.

The Hammer’s inspection of the windows found that snow blew in around one of the temporary windows located at the back of the house. He cleaned up the mess and packed that window as well as other temporary windows with foam, (sealed with tape in some cases), to prevent a repeat occurrence in another room of the house. His plan for the day had been to work outside setting up the scaffolding on the south side of the east façade, in preparation for sill work! Joyous news. But for now, because of the wind and super cold temperatures outside, that work will be put off until weather conditions improve.

If you look closely, you can see some of the foam Joe the Hammer used to fill in space on either side of the window.
A close-up of the foam

Tape used to cover a gap.
The only temporary window which the snow was able to breach.
The south side of the east facade and the future site of scaffolding.
An example of how the blowing snow covered everything!  This is the screen door of the entrance into the museum.
The Hammer's car made it up the Hill but my poor little minivan didn't stand a chance.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Working in a winter wonderland...

It’s cold outside. It’s really cold inside. As I type, I am sitting huddled in my chair at the computer with my electric heater blasting and my sneakers sitting on top of it drying out. I don’t know if this is a fire hazard and quite frankly, I would welcome some flames just to thaw out the top portion of each of my toes. I know what you’re thinking – it’s winter, there’s snow on the ground, why are you wearing sneakers? If you must know I have no boots. There I said it. My name is Mary, I live in upstate New York, it is winter time, and I don’t own a pair of boots (not unless you count my bright yellow and blue rain boots which I do not because they offer no traction in the snow). Maybe some of you haven’t seen the video I made recently for Historic Cherry Hill’s End-of-Times, wait that was a typo, End-Of-Year Appeal on facebook. If you haven’t, let me just say my lack of winter boots is the least of my family’s worries.

If you watched the video, then you may be feeling sufficiently sympathetic towards me to not hold the “no snow boots” thing against me. By this time you must be able to tell that I’m not the brightest light bulb on the Christmas tree (I’m more along the lines of the one that blinks on and off randomly, you know, the one that you tighten, and it seems to light up nicely, but the next time you come into the room it’s off again), and maybe you’ll forgive me for lacking wintertime essentials. Any who – I was taking a long time to explain that it is cold. Period. Whether you are outside or inside the museum.

And because it is cold, I may have taken a perverse delight in the meeting that was held here at the museum last Wednesday. It was a meeting attended by the architectural team, Western Building, and Cherry Hill. Here’s where the perverse delight comes in – it was very cold that day, and all of the foreign dignitaries at the site had to suffer in the cold while they inspected the work. I acknowledge that at the end of the day they got to go back to their heated offices and wait for the feeling to return to their fingers, so it was really only a temporary discomfort to them, but still - they suffered. If I wanted to be fair I should say that the only heated place The Hammer gets to go on his workday is his car and that he is the only one who actually has to work outdoors and in the unheated section of the house, but I don’t feel like being fair. I bet his car is a lot warmer than my cave with its electric heater that even a caveman would turn his nose up at.

But where was I? I’m sorry, I’ve noticed that my memory is not what it used to be since the sensory receptors in my brain have frozen solid. Ah yes, the meeting at the Arctic Circle. I was not present for it (much to the relief of all involved as they knew: a) they wouldn’t have to repeat things in a slow and distinct voice; and b) they wouldn’t fear that any of their comments would appear in the blog) - I relied instead on the stellar recall of the Director and the Curator. Let’s just say that the basement windows aren’t the only thing affected by dry rot. (That’s just a little restoration humor – I know the architectural team and Joe the Hammer totally got that joke!) For all of you lay people, I was making a humorous comparison, implying that the recall ability of the Director and the Curator has been affected by dry rot as have the museum’s basement windows…but I kid. They were able to recall in stunning detail how cold it was outside.

A meeting of the Polar Bear Club...just without the water

And some other things.

First things first – the architectural team approved all of the work that had been done thus far. Joe the Hammer received praise for the quality of his workmanship.  (If only poor Joe could have heard their compliments but alas, the exposure to the elements had frozen his ear drums rendering him deaf.) The options for heating the inside of the house for work purposes was brought up. I may not have mentioned this but it’s cold in the house and cold outside. For the mason to put the nogging back in place requires mortar, which requires above-freezing temperatures to spread properly. Western will be using a 110-amp electric heater inside the house to provide heat in the North Parlor while work is done on the nogging and also for the window painting that needs to take place inside the house. There is still some talk about needing higher heat temps on the outside of the house to continue restoration work. The idea of a tent and a blower using 220 amps for heat was tossed around making the Director a little nervous as she considered that just running the vacuum cleaner inside the house tends to trip the breakers. Western will be bringing an electrician by to evaluate the museum’s electrical capacity before using the blower.

110-amp heater in the north parlor whose sole purpose is to keep the room warm enough for mortar work to be done.
Mortar work done in the north parlor, courtesy of the heating power of the 110-amp heater.
Mortar work waiting to be done.  You can see the original nogging in this picture, waiting patiently for its turn.

Both the architectural team and the restoration workers were in agreement that exterior painting would have to be postponed until the spring. We will now have to approach the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) with the plea to allow us to run two EPF grants at the same time because if we push back the painting to spring, and if Parks does not allow us to use two grants simultaneously, then we’re going to be sitting back looking pretty and incidentally looking at a nice long delay in the restoration project as we wait for the spring thaw.

But put a check mark in the good news column because it sounds like (try and follow this) the south post in the north parlor located to the right of the front door (if you're facing the house), may not be in the terrible condition it was previously believed to be in. Yes it is floating in air - definitely not good, but the architectural team was pleasantly surprised to learn that the damage didn’t extend too far upwards in the post. Because of this the post may not need a dutchman repair with the white oak. It may be able to scrape by with an epoxy repair, specifically a structural epoxy, which when dry will be as strong as the beam of wood. The bonus with the epoxy repair would be less of a loss (say that five times fast) of the original wood. The group looked at the southwest corner post of the house. Once again there was hope that that post is not in as bad shape as was previously thought. Western and the architectural team will be looking at the report from the bore testing that was done previous to the start of the restoration project to reevaluate that particular post.

The Director is hoping that by having been a good girl all year, Santa might give her a southwest post in better shape than previousy thought.

Taking a break from the bitter cold outside, the group sought refuge in the bitter cold inside and inspected interior work. On their journey through the house they stopped to discuss a couple of windows that showed a serious degree of wood rot caused by water entry. As professionals are wont to do, they stood and discussed the various causes for the wood rot including the possibility that wind-driven rain may be responsible or that the way the window sill was constructed may be to blame ultimately concluding that they didn’t know the answer. After that illuminating conversation, the architectural team and Western teased the hopeful heart of the Director by mentioning once again that the south side of the east sill may be in better shape than previously expected.  (Wow, that feels like déjà vu – I have the feeling that I have written a sentence like that before - about structural elements being in better shape than previously thought.) Work in the north parlor is still continuing. The mason has mortared some of the nogging back in place. Once the nogging work is finished, and The Hammer gets some lath nails he is waiting on, he will be able to finish the work on the interior wall in the north parlor.

As exciting as inspecting work in the bitter cold can be, the group then got in their warm vehicles and took a trip to Western’s workshop where the window restoration work is being done. The Director and the Curator met the Window Fellows who are carrying out the restoration work on our windows. We know that the basement windows of the house are in pretty terrible shape due to dry rot, and it is questionable as to whether or not it is advisable to try and restore them. A decision must be made whether to restore them or not. If the decision is to not restore but build new ones it might seem obvious that we would restore them to be as authentic as possible – basically new exact copies of the original. While that is the obvious option there is still another option which we have to take into account when making this decision. The option behind door number 2 is to document and retain the existing window and construct a window that is authentic in the elements that will actually be exposed – but is not operable and thus has no pockets (which would not be visible once the window was installed).

It wasn’t all blissful heat and thawing out of the extremities for The Director and the Curator. They were faced with some tough questions concerning the exterior window hardware. You tell me if you could answer, on the spot, what color to make the hinge attached to the shutter, the hinge attached to the window frame and the shutter dogs. Not so easy is it? But like true Jeopardy champions, the Director and the Curator were able to pull it off under pressure and answer in the form of a question - What are three examples of the type of detail one must consider during a window restoration project? This is not an easy question to answer. First of all, the Director and the Curator were actually aware of this question as it was emailed to them a couple of weeks ago and they had been discussing it for some time, so I guess that although that makes them Jeopardy Cheaters, it also makes them responsible museum staff. Ideally a paint analysis would be undertaken to verify the historically accurate paint color; however the cost of the paint analysis is prohibitive for the museum at this point. The Curator and the Director had to decide on a different course that would be a responsible alternative. The Window Fellows verified that the existing paint on the hardware was stable enough to prevent the destruction of the original fabric of the hardware, thus preserving the historical evidence for future paint analysis. In the meantime, the hardware would retain its current colors. The hinge attached to the shutter will remain the same color as the shutter, the hinge attached to the window frame will remain the same color as the frame and the shutter dogs will remain black.

Original windows from Cherry Hill awaiting work.

Pieces of original framingfrom some of the museum's windows.
Example of restored shutter
Box o' hinges - parts of window hinges
Piece of sash lock with model no. stamped in it. 

Other side of sash lock.

That is a brief summary of the meeting that took place last Wednesday. Oh I forgot, Western has provided us with some new benchmarks.  (I stopped listening to the Director after I heard the word February.)  I don’t much care about benchmarks anymore, I just want to stay warm while at work – and judging from the smell of burning rubber wafting from the location of my sneakers laying on the electric heater, I just might get that fire I was hoping for.
Sneakerss roasting on an open fire caused by an electric heater, jack frost nipping at my finger tips, nose, toes, ears....

Friday, December 10, 2010

Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas

The view from the meeting room at the architecture firm we employ is pretty cool. I know this because a) I attended a meeting at said architecture firm last Thursday in said meeting room, and b) I spent a lot of time looking out those windows during the meeting at said architecture firm in said meeting room. In fact, not just the meeting room is awesome, but the entire firm is exactly what I thought an architectural firm should look like – by the way, I never knew I had preconceived notions about what an architectural firm should look like either.

Perhaps my focus was on the view out of the windows all around me, because the conversation taking place within the meeting room at times was beyond my limited understanding of grant administration. In my last entry I may have mentioned that the museum was the recipient of a $300,000 EPF grant (Ignore the sound of a horn tooting, it’s just me).

**Warning – some background information on EPFs coming up, you may need a sip of coffee or other caffeinated beverage before you continue reading**

An EPF grant is a grant from the Environmental Protection Fund. Makes sense right? That a historic site would receive an Environmental Protection Fund grant. Of course it doesn’t. Not unless you know that there is a Historic Preservation Category for the Environmental Protection Fund. As the fund apparently is its very own entity, unrelated to any state agency, the grants are administered by the appropriate agency for relating to the category of the fund. In our case, since we received an EPF grant in the Historic Preservation Category, our grant is administered by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (herein referred to as Parks).

The Director called a meeting with the architects to discuss how the restoration project would proceed especially in light of this unexpected early EPF Christmas gift. After a road trip down the Thruway (by the way - Starbucks has an awesome peppermint hot chocolate available for this holiday season) the Director, the Curator and I arrived at the firm’s office and proceeded upstairs to the pretty cool/awesome meeting room. We were greeted with a plate of pastries, water and coffee – all things guaranteed to put us in a jolly mood. But this Communications Coordinator’s belly stopped shaking like a bowl full of jelly once talk began of 3:1 ratios, managing fees as a portion of grant money, and the rules determining how many EPF grants can be administered at any given time for one project.

Despite feeling a little out of my element, I took my pen in hand and began scribbling down phrases and incomplete sentences as fast as they flew out of the mouths surrounding me. And here I sit, looking at my several pages of scrawl determined to glean some type of knowledge from the chicken scratch I call my (panicked) note-taking.

Clearly note-taking may not be my thing.

The only complete sentence I see in my notes is a question about whether it is reasonable to expect to be able to complete the first two phases of restoration work with the funds we have thus far secured. There is no answer to that question. Instead there is a list of things that must be completed to consider the first two phases well and truly finished: attic and basement insulation, perimeter wall insulation, roof inspection and flashing repairs, drainage on west side of house. Then follows in my notes a helter-skelter of squiggles, arrows and misspelled words as the architects the Director and Curator talked about what those things would entail. For example, discussion was held on how the walls would be insulated – blown in through the cedar shingles on the back of the house where there isn’t nogging blocking the way, or blown in through the interior walls in each stud bay? And then there are my illegible notes about issues of condensation followed by the final word that nothing can be decided until the architects create a thermal model of the wall showing temperature and humidity levels which will help them decide the best course to take concerning insulation for the house.

A decision has to be made regarding when environmental work (heating and humidity control) will be done. Apparently it might be more practical to use a chunk of money for the environmental work to be carried out separate from the EPF money to be used for insulation and roof work. Speaking of roof work, there was conversation about when the initial roof inspection would be carried out.  Could that be part of the pre-development work so that the roof inspector could have an estimate for the work before the actual work phase of the roof work begins? (Apparently there are three phases to grant money - pre-development, administration, and actual work). Something to think about. Or if you are me, to write down and then forget about.

Oh and by the way, due to regulations tied to state monies, if the architect’s fees go above a certain monetary amount for a project, then we have to go back to bid for architectural services. There is a real possibility that when we begin the next phase of restoration work we will first have to put the architectural work out to bid – a whole process that will inevitably delay the start of the next phase of work.

Parks usually prefers that when EPF funds are being used, that one EPF grant be used up completely before another EPF grant is administered. Cherry Hill is in the position of having two EPF grants which would mean that we should finish using our first grant before we tap into the funds from our latest $300,000 EPF. The problem with that in this case is that the work we will use both grants to pay for are rather symbiotic in nature. It would make more sense to do the work simultaneously. Because of this, we may have to make a case and present it to Parks.

Confused? Well then you feel like my notes look …and my brain works. So lets move on to things that make a little more sense to me.

I had a chit chat (not over tea and scones) with The Hammer to get caught up to speed on what work he had accomplished over the past two weeks (my children and their nasty stomach bug held me prisoner in my home for a while thus my need for an update). The Hammer said, with minimal pomp and circumstance and by minimal I mean he pulled the ear bud from his iPod out of his ear, something to the effect that the sill and post repairs are done on the north end of the east façade. Now imagine a cartoon character with her eye balls popping out of her head and her tongue rolling out of her mouth to hit the floor. There, you just imagined what I looked like upon hearing the news (and you also know why I didn’t have many dates in high school).

Sill work is finished on the north end of the house?! Posts have been repaired?! That’s a big deal right? I thought so which is why it struck me as odd that The Hammer wasn’t jumping up and down and squealing in delight with me (besides the obvious fact that he isn’t a little school girl). Either he was too cool for school, I was not cool enough or I was missing something.

As usual...I was missing something. Or rather a series of somethings. Namely, yes the sill work and post repairs were finished on the north end but there was still more work to be done before The Hammer could put a fork in this part of the structural work and declare it done.


• Pressure treated 4x6s had been installed to replace the previous sill.

• White oak was used to repair the exterior posts.

To Be Done:

• Masonry workers have to come and mortar the original nogging back in place, as well as repoint parts of the foundation wall.

• The original lath and plaster have to go back up on the interior wall in the North Parlor.

Once those two things have been accomplished then the structural work on the north end of the house will be finished.

Kind of.

That leaves out the work that still needs to be done on the posts located at either side of the front entrance, as well as the sill currently covered by the remnants of the front porch. That particular bit of work depends on when the front porch will come down. When I asked what factors go into making that decision, The Hammer explained the rather obvious matter of egress from the building. Temporary stairs will need to be put in place. So until that remaining section of porch comes down, no post or sill work can occur in that area.

Once this remaining piece of front porch is removed, The Hammer will be able to evaluate what repairs are needed to the sill and the posts.

Where East Berlin and West Berlin meet (East Berlin being the old sill and West Berlin being the new sill)
The whole south end of the house still needs to be opened up and structural repairs made (as needed, and we’re really hoping the sill is in better shape than expected on that end).

An example of The Hammer's handiwork - he had to label all new wood with the words "New Wood 2010"for future reference.

I got The Hammer’s point – maybe the jumping and squealing is a bit premature. Especially considering the bad news we just got – looks like it’s too cold outside to paint exterior windows. That part of the work will have to be postponed until the spring. Did I mention we’ve been luxuriating in 20-odd degree weather here in Albany the past couple of days? You can imagine how pleasant it is inside the house! And if you can’t, go stand outside and answer the phone or pretend to type on an imaginary computer and you will soon get the picture. (Maybe the fact that I’ve decided to break out the skirts and heels in blithe disregard of the thermometer reading is contributing to the freezing cold feeling I’ve had huddled in my office against my circa 1983 space heater every day of this week.)

Any way you slice it – it’s cold, and while the sill is toasty warm snuggled behind its thermal blanket, we the staff are forced to fight over the chair closest to the furnace in our volunteer room during morning coffee time…the kibosh has been put on all squealing.

While the sill is nestled all snug in its Thermal Blanket bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in its head....
Mama in her kerchief is clearly not settled down for her long winter's nap (although she is wearing several layers of clothes to keep warm while she works).