Why You Should Invest in Historical Rehabilitation

by | Jul 14, 2023 | Structural, Thought Leadership

“I was telling people I was going to be an engineer when I was like 8 years old. I’m not sure where it came from. But it was always a thing. I was always going to be an engineer. I was always taking things apart,” says Patrick Earney, Project Manager for McClure’s Structural team. “I set my bed on fire with a clock radio once when I was a kid because I didn’t unplug it before taking it apart. Yes, this happened. Can you imagine being my mother?”

It’s that curiosity and drive that has led Earney to be one of the most well-versed Structural engineers and educators in the Midwest. In addition to his career at McClure, he is also an Adjunct Professor at University of Missouri, recently being inducted into the Civil Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni (CEADA).

“I’ve always just been drawn to engineering as a profession and structural engineering, I think, is the result of watching This Old House on tv,” says Earney. “My passion for historic buildings came from this show, which as a kid, I watched religiously instead of cartoons on Saturdays.” Now, he gets to live those childhood dreams, using his structural background to partner with architects and communities on historical rehabilitation.

Historical rehabilitation, also known as historic restoration, refers to the process of restoring and revitalizing historical buildings, landmarks, and districts to their original grandeur or adapting them for modern use while preserving their historical and architectural significance. Investing in historical rehabilitation brings about numerous benefits for communities, and here are six compelling reasons why it is a worthy endeavor:

  1. Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Historical buildings and sites are tangible connections to a community’s past and cultural heritage. They represent the stories, traditions, and achievements of previous generations. By investing in historical rehabilitation, communities safeguard their unique identity, ensuring that future generations can appreciate and learn from their rich history.
  2. Tourism and Economic Growth: Rehabilitated historical landmarks attract tourists and visitors, boosting the local economy. Historical sites have the potential to become major tourist attractions, generating revenue from tourism-related businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This infusion of tourism dollars can breathe new life into struggling neighborhoods and create jobs for residents.
  3. Enhancement of Property Values: Preserving historical properties can lead to increased property values in the surrounding area. Well-maintained historic neighborhoods often become desirable places to live, attracting homeowners and businesses alike. As property values rise, so does local tax revenue, enabling the community to invest in other essential services and infrastructure.
  4. Sustainable Development: Historical rehabilitation promotes sustainable development by reusing existing structures and materials. Rather than tearing down old buildings, which can be environmentally harmful, rehabilitation minimizes waste and reduces the need for new construction. This approach aligns with modern sustainability goals and practices.
  5. Revitalization of Neglected Areas: Many historical buildings are located in older or neglected parts of towns and cities. Rehabilitating these structures can act as a catalyst for urban revitalization. As historical properties are restored, it encourages further investment, leading to a domino effect that rejuvenates entire neighborhoods.
  6. Fostering Creativity and Innovation: Historical rehabilitation often involves balancing preservation with adaptive reuse. This creative process encourages architects and designers to find innovative ways to integrate modern needs and functions while respecting the historical fabric. The challenge of preserving the past while embracing the future can spark ingenuity and architectural and engineering excellence.

Earney and McClure’s work has ranged from former jail houses and city halls to taverns, warehouses, and mechanics garages. “I’ve developed some unique structural solutions to try and keep buildings stable when you take out most of the walls,” said Earney. “I’ve had to work carefully to maintain the appearance of the building while making it safe to use.”

For communities interested in historic rehabilitation, Earney suggests getting a structural engineer involved early to determine what may be possible. Also, applying to get the building or buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places to become eligible for tax credits at both the state and federal level.

“If you are going to use tax credits for your restoration, then you must follow the historic guidelines and maintain as much as possible the original material and the original appearance,” says Earney. “I’ve had clients that wanted to take the plaster off brick walls and leave the exposed brick and you’re not allowed to do that if you get tax credits because that’s not the original appearance. Tax credits are significant. You can recoup up to 40% of the cost of restoration.”

Materials can be complex, as readily available resources change over time. “I’ve sent timber off to be tested to determine its structural properties,” says Earney. “I did a barn that was built out of Cottonwood, which I’m sure was readily available in the river bottom at the time it was built. Over time, the river moved. The new owner wanted to turn it into an event space. So, I needed to load-rate the members. You can’t look up Cottonwood in the timber manual. It’s not there. So, we took some representative samples out and sent them to be tested so I could have material strengths to work from to allow the continued use of that structure.”

Aside from living out his 8-year-old ambitions, Earney says the historic structures also bring a sense of pride. “When the building gets restored, it feels new again and a new generation gets involved with it,” he says. “There’s a great satisfaction seeing people enjoying themselves in these restored spaces.”

If you’re interested in learning more about how structural engineers can support your historic rehabilitation projects, email info@mcclurevision.com.

Patrick Earney, PE, SE

Patrick Earney, PE, SE

Patrick Earney, PE, SE  is a Structural Engineer and Project Manager with experience in all types of design of frame and load bearing construction and analysis of existing structures. His specialties include: historic structural evaluation, light gauge steel framing, high performance concrete materials, wood building design, progressive collapse and blast loading, structural steel, and condition assessment. You can contact Patrick at pearney@mcclurevision.com.

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