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An Interview with Lauren McCroskey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Revised UFGS Historic Masonry Specification

I had the unique privilege to interview one of the leading historic preservation experts, Lauren McCroskey, Program Manager, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the Seattle District, on the recent revision to the UFGS for the Restoration and Cleaning of Masonry in Historic Structures.

USACE Official Announcement:

Technical Center of Expertise (TCX), Preservation of Historic Structures and Buildings Technology Update

As part of its mission to provide leadership in historic buildings technology, the TCX announces a major revision of its specification, “Restoration and Cleaning of Masonry in Historic Structures.” The spec now reflects state-of-the-industry guidance for the treatment of historic masonry and mortar, and surpasses existing preservation guidance provided by other federal agencies.

Property managers and cultural resource specialists are encouraged to use the spec in contract documents to ensure that masonry work is performed appropriately to prolong the life of historic buildings.  See Unified Facilities Guide Specification 04 01 00.91

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Speweik: What is the official title of the specification?

McCroskey: The title is the UNIFIED FACILITIES GUIDE SPECIFICATIONS

DIVISION 04 – MASONRY SECTION 04 01 00.91

RESTORATION AND CLEANING OF MASONRY IN HISTORIC STRUCTURES

Speweik: Who originally authored it?

McCroskey: The Corps was the preparing agent and performed the processing. The exact author(s) are unknown, though Corps staff would have prepared it.

Speweik: How long has it been in use/circulation?

McCroskey: It’s been available since 1991.

Speweik: Who is authorized to use it?

McCroskey: The Guide is to be used by the Military Departments (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.), the Defense Agencies and the DoD Field Activities for planning, design, construction, sustainment, restoration and modernization of facilities, regardless of funding source. But anyone can use the guide to adapt to a particular masonry project.

Speweik: What government agency owns it?

McCroskey: The Architectural Discipline Working Group are the owners of the Section; Scott Wick is the Corps representative of that group.

Speweik: What is your position with the USACE and what specific responsibilities do you have regarding historic preservation?

McCroskey: I manage the Technical Center of Expertise for the Preservation of Historic Structures and Buildings, a program of nationwide service. The program provides technical assistance and preservation planning for Corps Districts, DoD, and other federal agencies to ensure facility and property managers apply the best practices to historic structures. We try to set the highest standards of preservation practice through quality project work, training, and by developing technical information.

Speweik: What prompted you to request an update to the Historic Masonry Division Section this past year?

McCroskey: For several years I’ve had an awareness that the Corps’ existing standards and guidance for the treatment of historic masonry has lagged behind newer developments and technological advancements for treating historic brick, stone, and mortar. I receive inquiries from Corps Districts and other agencies asking for specific guidance to address deteriorated stone or brick. Property managers rarely know how to approach these issues from a historic preservation perspective, and often have maintenance and field crews tackle masonry problems. While their intent is good, the methods, materials, and applications are often not appropriate for historic structures, and can lead to further harm and long-term costly repairs. That’s why it’s essential for us to be able to pass along the most appropriate, state-of-the-industry techniques and standards.

Speweik: What do you believe to be one of the most significant changes to the specification?

McCroskey: There are many improvements, but one of the most important is the depth of information, which is far more educational for the user than the old spec. There is much to be learned from this document. Another key improvement is that materials application is not just described, but preceded by a thoughtful examination of building and masonry conditions. There is extensive information about how to investigate existing conditions so that the best decisions can be made about materials, conditions, and methods.

Speweik: How do you see this change making a positive difference for the quality-level of Historic Preservation Projects in the United States?

McCroskey: I believe the TCX is obligated to provide the best guidance regarding the treatment of historic structures and buildings. By encouraging the use of this guide, the rehabilitation of historic masonry should be performed in a manner that is appropriate, efficient, and prolongs the life of historic materials.

Speweik: How do you envision the revised specification affecting the work you do at the USACE?

McCroskey: The spec will be the only guidance we provide to customers, or when advising others on the best standards for masonry. Since this spec now surpasses all other historic masonry guidance, we now consider this document the “gold standard.” Of course, there are sub categories of masonry, such as terra cotta and concrete, which may require other technical information. But where brick, stone, and mortar are concerned, this is our “go to” standard.

Speweik: Did you consider the possible additional costs to Historic Preservation Projects as a result of some of the changes? And, if so, do you believe the additional cost is a significant percentage of overall project costs?

McCroskey: When good preservation practices are used, the life and performance of historic materials is extended. When improper practices are applied, greater costs can be incurred when the wrong treatment or method causes damage that requires repair. Taking short cuts by using commercial products that are not suited to historic stone or brick, or using techniques that are not consistent with historic methods can cost more long-term, and rarely satisfy the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and treatment of historic structures that all federal agencies must follow.

Speweik: How do architects, owners, consultants and contractors find out more about this important specification document?

McCroskey: The guide is now available on-line at the TCX web page: http://www.nws.usace.army.mil/BusinessWithUs/HistoricPreservation.aspx

For additional information or clarification regarding the spec’s application, your readers may contact me at:

Lauren McCroskey

Program Manager

Technical Center of Expertise

Preservation of Historic Structures & Buildings

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Seattle District

206-764-3538

lauren.l.mccroskey@usace.army.mil

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Preservation – Looking Back to Look Forward – Workmanship of the Mason

US Treasury Department Building under construction, ca. 1867 - Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington DC

US Treasury Department Building under construction, ca. 1867 – Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington DC

I encourage the next generation of future masons to always look for opportunities to embrace mentors in our trade. And to the older masons I say make a difference in the world of a young person looking for a trade and openly share your professional experience in masonry knowledge in the preservation of important historic architecture. We each bring to the table a skill set that can, and will, make a difference – if, or course, we are given the chance and awarded the projects we seek to secure.

Many of you may not know about my background and experience in masonry preservation – so I will provide you with just a brief overview of how I ended up where I am today with the title of: “Historic Masonry Preservation Specialist”  I grew up in the masonry construction business working for my father, uncles, and grandfather in a family owned business located in Toledo, Ohio. This opportunity to be birthed into a family of working brick and stonemasons was not by choice but to keep me out of trouble in my teenage years.  And yes, it did work. There is something about carrying brick and stone, building scaffolding, mixing mortar, and cleaning out the toolbox that keeps one honest. I think I was just to tired after working all day to have the energy to get into trouble as I learned the trade of masonry construction is most demanding on the body.

As it turns out I developed a lower back injury that kept me from working in the trade actively – so I decided to go back to school and study architecture. It was in college that I began to appreciate the art of design and the process of construction as it related to historic and traditional masonry architecture. If I could no longer lift and set the stone – I could learn about how to preserve its original condition – and more importantly to do this in the means and methods of the original builders. This meant I needed to be willing to learn about traditional masonry construction tools, methods and materials. It also meant I needed to find other masons that understood these aspects of my new desire. The year was 1990 – 26 years ago. I researched my own family of origin in the masonry trade which dates back to 1870 in Posen, Prussia. So I was the 5th generation in my family to be involved in the masonry business.  The problem; however, was that the oldest living relative that would had known about traditional masonry construction methods, workmanship, and materials was my great grandfather and he died in 1951. My grandfather died in 1979; my father in 1985.

As luck would have it I secured a job at a lime manufacturing company in 1991. It was during my employment I discovered an enthusiasm for historic mortar materials, which of course are based upon lime, and have been for thousands of years.  Working with several conservators, architects, and a masonry contractor based in Toronto, Canada I began offering lime putty for use as a binder (without Portland cement) combined with sand at the jobsite. It was not long after; however, that I realized the need to train masons on the jobsite to use the Portland-free mix design and assist them in delivering the best quality possible. I traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland over the next several years to work alongside other masons who generously mentored me in preserving historic masonry using lime mortars and traditional methods on castles. Then I brought that information back to the United States to assist in our training efforts here. That was 1998.

Lime Mortar Training Workshop at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 1997. Image Courtesy of the NPS.

Lime Mortar Training Workshop at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 1997. Image Courtesy of the NPS.

We made mistakes; we learned from our mistakes, we improved our methods, tools, equipment and materials. We did not give up. Encouraged from my mentor masons in Europe and Canada – I completed one project after another across the United States monitoring the progress as I went along. Writing, speaking and communicating with industry professionals I stayed focused. I wish to gratefully thank the pioneers in the masonry preservation movement in Europe that encouraged and personnally helped me like; R.H. Bennett, MBE, Winchester, England; Dr. Gerard Lynch, London, England; Mr. Douglas Johnston, Glasgow, Scotland; Mr. Patrick McAfee, Dublin, Ireland; Ms. Pat Gibbons; Charleston Fife, Scotland; the late Mr. John Ashurst, London, England; Mr. John Fidler, York, England; Mr. Colin Burns, Manchester, England; Mr. Stafford Holmes, London, England; Mr. Tim Meek, Charleston Fife, Scotland; Mr. Michael Wingate, England; Mr. Sam Trigila, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Scottish Lime Centre; and English Heritage and the Society of the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in London, England.

Since the early 90s I have been privileged to assist in the effort to establish (or best said, re-introduce) the lost art of true traditional masonry preservation with the use of lime mortars leading the way. As we continue this effort in 2016 we will actively be searching for architects and historic building owners that seek to preserve the architectural history and character of their properties by supporting the masons by offering onsite historic masonry training that is project specific. I strongly believe that by understanding our past and acknowledging the workmanship, trade practices, techniques, and tools used by the original masons in the process of the original construction we will have a better chance at success in the authentic preservation of historic masonry.

If we go into historic masonry preservation projects expecting that masons today should know all the details that are vital to the success of a masonry preservation project – I think we are asking for too much – especially in a low-bid environment in which many design professionals must deliver their services.  Let us expect the best, write excellent specifications to support quality assurance – but we must be realistic in the understanding of what that actually means to the mason working at the site. In many cases these men and women have never worked with a straight pure lime mortar before so there is a natural learning curve that must be acknowledged. But we can not, and should not, let masonry contractors figure it out on the jobsite without proper guidence. This is why I started my company to do just that – mentor and help the masons through training. The same way I learned in Europe.

Speweik Preservation Consultants are not masonry contractors. We use our hands-on historic masonry experience to provide the necessary technical consulting services in: condition assessment, material testing, specification assistance and masonry contractor training at the project site. We strive to support the efforts of the Architects and Historic Building Owners in meeting the US Department of the Interior’s Secretary Standards for Rehabilitation in Division 4 and to protect the historic integrity of the architecture under repair consideration.

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Qualified Masons…. On-site Training

Preparing for a Stone Dutchman Repair during a ASTM E2659-09 Historic Masonry Training at North Hall, ca. 1851 – University of Wisconsin, Madison

Most specifications call for masons to have five (5) years in historic masonry restoration experience in a similar project and scope of work. The problem is most mason contractors don’t often have the experience in the particular specification materials or methods of approach to specific projects. A new movement in recent years has been to assist the masons in gaining the necessary knowledge through on-site contractor training programs. These programs are specifically designed for the masons and teach them the workmanship skills required for specific masonry restoration treatments that may not be commonplace. For example, a crew may learn the techniques of Dispersed Lime Injection (DHL) or the installation and curing of lime putty mortar for repointing.

Architects and building owners are encouraged to attend these sessions. While they do not receive a certificate for the application, they do receive a supervisory role certificate in order to participate in quality assurance inspections during the construction phase.

The training is built from the framework provided in ASTM Designation E2659-09e1 Standard Practice for Certificate Programs. Each training event is carried out at the project site with the masons performing the work. The training programs allow owners and architects to identify qualified masons based upon delivering an acceptable test panel of each specified treatment. Each mason must meet certain criteria and pass a written test defined in the training program plan in order to receive an E2659-09e1 project certificate. An oversight committee is formed for each project representing the primary stakeholders. The primary stakeholders are typically the owner, architect and the preservation officer.

The project training program plan is developed by SPC personnel in collaboration with the project architect during the design development stage. The SPC training program dovetails into the project specifications and supports the quality assurance of the overall project. The project training program plan is submitted to the oversight committee for review and approval. The SPC certificate issuer is a qualified historic masonry specialist having designated authority charged to administer the training. The oversight committee typically requires that all masons and supervisors participate in a series of learning events designed to assist him or her in achieving the learning outcomes within a defined scope prior to working on the project.

Specifying SPC ASTM E2659-09e1 Project Certificate Training helps to ensure delivery of the highest quality craftsmanship and maximum life-cycle performance of the repairs.  All learning events in each training component comply with project specification requirements. The SPC training programs preserve the historic integrity of projects by assuring quality applications and installations of specified materials.

Because we work on National Landmark Buildings all SPC training components and learning events comply with all federal, state, and local building code requirements and preservation guidelines set forth in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.

To view training in progress visit: SPC ASTM E2659-09 Historic Stone Masonry Training – Remove, Redress, and Return Stone

To receive a copy of a template specification that includes training write to:  jspeweik@speweikpreservation.com

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