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 fa├žade. 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). 

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