Local residents will have the opportunity Friday evening to learn more about the building preservation projects currently taking place throughout the Upper Ohio Valley when students of the Preservation and Restoration Program from Belmont College present their Traditional Building Arts Expo.
The event will take place in the atrium area of the Wheeling Artisan Center from 5-8 p.m. Friday, and instructor Cathie Senter believes as many as 30 of her students will participate during this year’s expo.
“It does seem that the attitude about historic buildings has changed in the Wheeling area over the past few years, and that’s a good thing as far as the historic buildings that this area does have left,” Senter said. “Now there are a lot of small restoration companies in the Valley where the employees have to wear a lot of different hats, and that’s where our program comes into play.
“But when it comes to re-purposing historic structures, it comes down to practicality because of the costs involved with so many of the projects,” she said. “Repurposing a building just has to make sense, and we are seeing more and more of that in this area now.”
Adam Sellers, a 2009 graduate of Barnesville High School who will graduate from Belmont College’s preservation program in May, said he believes the expo will offer the chance for others to observe the process with their own eyes.
“We have different stations where students can show off what we have done,” the 23-year-old Sellers explained. “We have the chance to display our craftsmanship and what the program has to offer. Two years ago, I did some molding out of plaster, and we auctioned them off during the event.
“It’s also an opportunity for the students to meet people in the trades we have been learning, and in some cases those encounters have led to employment opportunities,” he said. “There will also be presentations so those who attend can really understand the processes that we’ve been learning.”
One display to be featured during Friday’s expo will involve downtown Wheeling.
“The final project for our design class involved the building models and several other buildings here in downtown Wheeling,” Senter explained. “We have a hypothetical block in Wheeling where two buildings have been demolished, and the students have to design the new buildings that would replace them in that block.
“Those in-fill buildings can be modern, or they can be traditional in the design. That’s up to the students,” she said. “That model block will be on display during the expo, and the people who attend will come to realize the process that goes into those decisions.”
Senter explained that some of her students enrolled in Belmont College’s preservation program are already aware of what area of the construction industry they wish to work in, but not all.
“That’s part of the beauty of the program,” she said. “The academic part is about preservation, but they also get to do a lot of hands-on work, and there’s something about working with your hands. At least that’s the way it is for me.
“There’s nothing wrong with learning what is in the textbooks because that information is invaluable, but when they get to work hands-on, they are learning how to actually work with the materials,” she continued. “Once the students get the basic classes, then they get to start choosing the areas in which they want to work. That’s usually when something clicks for them because they find the area that interests them the most.”
Sellers is one soon-to-be-graduate who admits his eyes were opened by the lessons he’s learned.
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“When I first started the program, I just knew that I was going to college and that I had to get it done so I could get a job and make some money,” Sellers said. “I knew when I was in high school that I liked to work with my hands, and I knew I wanted to build.
“But about a year later, something just clicked, and now I pay attention to every little detail that goes into building something,” he explained. “I see some of the details on some of the buildings in this Valley, and now I realize that it took hours for someone to do. I’ve come to appreciate the craftsmanship it took to build what we still have today.”
Students of Belmont College’s preservation program have orchestrated projects in the Wheeling area, including a window restoration on the Capitol Theatre. At this time, according to Senter, several of her students are in the process of conducting an inventory of historic buildings in the South Wheeling section of the Friendly City.
The city of Wheeling has benefited from historical district designations, Senter said, but surveys, however, do not guarantee preservation.
“I think architecture has gone the route of being disposable these days,” Senter explained. “I’ve been in architecture for 28 years, and we have some clients that value the historic sense and the older buildings, but we have other clients that come to us and say they only want the building to last 20 years.
“I think that’s because we have become such a throw-away society,” she said. “Our landfills are 40 percent full of old building materials from new construction. So when you hear, ‘They don’t make them the way they used to’ it’s definitely true these days.”
Sellers, an employee of Allegheny Restoration, is currently one of many hands working on the Howell Mansion on the corner of 14th and Chapline streets. The structure once was the home of the Fort Henry Club, but it is now owned by McKinley & Associates and a restoration project was initiated in October. Sellers hopes to specialize in stained glass restoration at some point in his career.
“I have fallen in love with stained glass,” Sellers said. “I have worked a lot of carpentry and plaster, but it’s become mostly about stained glass. There are kinds of different aspects that go into this kind of work, and I find it fascinating.”
The Traditional Building Arts Expo will be sponsored by the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. and the Mills Group. Admission is free and those in attendance will be offered appetizers during the event. River City Restaurant and the Gift Emporium on the Artisan Center’s second floor both will be open to patrons, as well.
“The last time we had the expo at the Artisan Center, we had as many as 200 people filter through during the three hours we are there and it is our hope that we attract even more this Friday,” Senter said. “The folks who do attend pay a lot of attention to the demonstrations that are conducted by the students because they see it taking place, but they have no idea how it actually gets accomplished.”