The company that’s carved out a niche in restoring Scots heritage buildings

The company that’s carved out a niche in restoring Scots heritage buildings

Scotland has no shortage of built heritage, but the fact it has stood for decades or even centuries is no guarantee it will always be there. There was no greater proof of this than the shocking fire at Glasgow School of Art.

The effect of this blaze was traumatic. How could the school – and Glasgow – ever recover? Where would the skills and the materials be found even to attempt to repair the damage?

Fortunately one company has carved out a niche for itself in restoring and revitalising sensitive heritage buildings.

It is a unique sector. It can involve sourcing materials from thousands of miles away to find wood from not only the same species of tree but of the same age.

It can mean putting aside your state-of- the-art technology to dig out a substructure with shovels, a winch and a bucket. But it can also mean extending the life of much-loved buildings long into another century.

Kier Construction Scotland is carrying out the intricate restoration of the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art,” says Brian McQuade, its managing director for Scotland and north east England.

Aftermath of the shocking Glasgow School of Art fire
(Image: Scottish Fire and Rescue Service)

“It is working with University of Edinburgh at their Edinburgh College of Art to refurbish the Grade A-listed sandstone building and restoring and developing one of Scotland’s oldest and historic concert halls, Aberdeen Music Hall. We have also just been appointed as the contractor to support Glasgow Life in their refurbishment of The Burrell Collection and to carry out the restoration of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.

‘‘It’s a hugely rewarding sector to work in and there is a real sense of pride from everyone involved but this highly complex work is not without its challenges.”

Working on the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art combined conservation, craftsmanship and construction skills along with modern technology and design innovation. Work to restore the Mackintosh’s famous hen run, which connects two parts of the Mackintosh Building and provides artists with an area of natural light and shade, the loggia and the reinstated roof and fire-damaged stonework is now complete.

Now well under way is the work to restore the library and west wing, along with upgrading the east wing interior of the school. “In each area of the building, the restoration team has meticulously sourced materials and used craftsmanship that are of the same quality and calibre as the original building,” says McQuade.

“For instance, the structural timbers supporting the roof in Studio 58 were Canadian Douglas Fir and originally came from north east America. So we went back there to track down materials to replace them with.

“We sourced eight 23ft wooden beams from a Massachusetts mill undergoing demolition that were of the same timber species and were of a similar age and appearance. After shipping the timber across the Atlantic, it was tested and shaped in Dunfermline, before the beams were craned into the Mackintosh building and manoeuvred into place in a delicate and complex operation.

“Throughout this project, a total of around 30 different trades and craftspeople are working on this intricate restoration: from horse hair plasterers to lead glaziers, many working with original materials that have been salvaged and preserved.”

The problems at another major art school, Edinburgh College of Art, are very different. Here Kier is carrying out a major refurbishment and it is being done in two phases so that one half of the building always remains in operation. That way the College can continue to deliver its curriculum.

Kier Construction Scotland has been appointed as the contractor to support Glasgow Life in their refurbishment of The Burrell Collection

“We are improving and performing essential maintenance on the building’s fabric and internal systems, bringing a major new space in the west side of the main building into use. This updated space has been equipped with the latest in audio and visual facilities, improving the working and learning environment.”

A number of repairs and renovations have been undertaken, along with improvements and alterations. Work is concentrated between the Lauriston Place campus and George Square. This supports Edinburgh University’s strategy of bringing the College together on two sites, creating a more cohesive community but with room for expansion beyond its traditional areas of practice.

However, it is their work on Aberdeen Music Hall, one of Scotland’s oldest and most historic concert halls, that is perhaps the most technically complex. The multi-million project involves restoring, redeveloping and upgrading the A-listed building, and that
in turn has involved combining some high- tech solutions with old-fashioned building methods, including using a winch and bucket to dig out waste from under the building.

“We’ve been working on the incredibly complex structural challenge of enlarging the basement to the main auditorium in what
is a 200-year-old, category A-listed building. That work included having to suspend the existing structure throughout, using steel beams and temporarily propping up the structure,” McQuade says.

“Due to the location, space and other constraints, we also had to remove substructure waste by hand digging and lifting it out of the basement by means of winch and bucket gantry. Sometimes you have to go back to very traditional methods when working on heritage sites!”

The critical structural engineering work has now been completed. “We are out of the ground and ready to begin breathing life into the exciting new blueprint as we restore the concert hall’s original features and building new public areas with improved access.”

The classic auditorium, which has renowned acoustics, a historic Willis organ and Strachan murals, has been safeguarded for the future. The complex challenges of this kind of work is an invaluable opportunity to develop expertise and to transfer knowledge. Traditional craft skills are blended with modern engineering and state-of-the-art technology.

“With all of these projects, we are working closely with our clients, consultants, local suppliers, specialist conservators and craftsmen,” say Mcquade. They also provide specialist training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities.

One example of this comes from a supplier, stonemasons Stirling Stone. They recruited a first-year apprentice to work with them on the stone restoration of the Mackintosh building. Developing intricate hand-tooling skills was a significant part of this training.

Aberdeen Music Hall

“This unique project provides a fantastic opportunity to develop the next generation and help to address the construction skills gap in Scotland,” says McQuade.

Other parts of Scotland’s built heritage often go unremarked. They certainly do not become world-famous in the way that the Mackintosh building at Glasgow School of Art is.

However, they are still important and they have their own appeal.

“As a conservation accredited building surveyor, I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking advice before launching into any development project,” says Caroline Webster, of Savills Fochabers office. “Works undertaken which alter the fabric or appearance, internally or externally, of a listed building requires Listed Building Consent.

‘‘The Listing does not merely cover the areas noted in the Listing description; it covers the whole building, inside and out.

“As the owner, and therefore custodian, of the property the obligation is to achieve the careful balance of compliance and enjoyment, while protecting the building for future generations to enjoy.”

Savills Heritage team provides advice
and solutions for all elements of the historic environment – above-ground, below-ground and underwater – in terms of management, development, planning and conservation.

Even smaller projects present challenges. A recent example to hit the market is Kirk o’ The Muir, formerly a manse, in Perthshire. The C-listed 1870 house in Perthshire fell into disrepair, requiring full renovation, even though it retained the roof and was mostly wind and water tight.

Many of the original Victorian features inside remained intact and in good condition.storat

Next to the manse is a derelict former coach house, also C-listed, and in one corner of the grounds are the remains of a secession church, one of only four in Scotland, dating back to 1744.

The First Secession from the Church of Scotland was in 1732 and grew to include 45 congregations. Now, though, the A-listed Kirk O’The Muir Church is in a ruinous condition. The rectangular two-storey building’s walls have extensively crumbles and the roof has collapsed.

The house, with three bedrooms, a large bathroom, sitting room, family room, kitchen, dining room and two storerooms, stands in grounds of 3.8 acres, all overgrown but with mature birch, oak and copper beech trees. Bell Ingram put it on the market at offers over £170,000.

“Kirk o’The Muir is the sort of property that gets buyers who are keen to take on a project really excited,” says Bell Ingram sales assistant Johanna Wiseman. “If bought by someone with vision, this former manse could be transformed into a truly remarkable home. Kirk o’The Muir’s rural location offers tranquillity and privacy without being cut-off from civilisation.”
Her comments illustrate just one of the problems of valuing heritage properties. Their value to the buyer “keen to take on a project” and “with vision” is different from their value to other people.

Church properties are a classic example of the difficulty of valuing heritage. Crafted from native stone and often embellished with architectural complexity, they pose a dilemma when church authorities are forced to dispose of them.

“They also createa serious challenge for surveyors who are tasked with valuation of buildings with a vast range of differing characteristics, often in the absence of discernible trends or comparable sales evidence,” says Adam Jennings, a surveyor in the Glasgow North office of DM Hall.

The church estate in Scotland runs into thousands of buildings. Church building ran at a frantic pace through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Many churches are covered by Class 10 of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997, the same category as children’s nurseries, crèches, librarie and exhibition halls.

The more marketable ones are in urban areas with adequate parking. Rural churches surrounded by graveyards or in disrepair often need protracted marketing or are sold by auction.

“So while the number coming to market is likely to increase, surveyors will essentially have to continue to provide a bespoke valuation process in this specialised area,” says Jennings.

Wigan theatre bought at auction

Wigan theatre bought at auction

The people behind The Old Courts have managed to secure the purchase of the former Royal Court Theatre on King Street (known in recent years as nightclubs Springbok/The Hub), securing its future and with plans to restore this Grade II listed, former 3,000-seat-theatre back to its intended use for the community it was built for.

The theatre, which is still largely intact, will form part of the organisation’s aim to further develop heritage space to support the development of culture and the arts in Wigan.

The Royal Court Theatre brings back nostalgic memories for many. It opened in 1886 and ended its life as a theatre/cinema in 1974.

Police evacuate Stratford Festival theatre, cancel performance of ‘The Tempest’

Police evacuate Stratford Festival theatre, cancel performance of ‘The Tempest’ Staff
Published Monday, May 28, 2018 7:35PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 28, 2018 9:50PM EDT

Hundreds of people were forced to leave two theatres on the opening night of the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont., after police responded to a threat.

Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson told CTV Kitchener that a call to police prompted them to ask theatregoers to leave the Festival Theatre, where more than 1,800 had gathered Monday night to watch “The Tempest.” The festival’s Avon theatre was also evacuated.

Stratford Police Acting Deputy Chief Sam Theocharis later told reporters that a threat had been made over the phone at approximately 6:45 p.m.

“(Police) received a telephone call from an unknown individual advising us that there was an explosive set somewhere on the property of the Stratford Festival, at which time we contacted security at both theatres, which initiated their action plan for evacuation,” Theocharis said.

Police officers were searching the building and it was unclear how long the search would take, Theocharis added.

“The building is so massive and has so many small rooms, nooks and crannies,” he said.

“We want to make sure that public safety comes first and we have to make sure that the entire building is completely searched,” he added.

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino insisted that the show will go on, as early as Tuesday. He said that ticketholders for Monday’s performance will get a refund or be allowed to reschedule.

“This is a sad, sad situation that this is taking place right now,” Cimolino told reporters.

“We’re hoping that we find out that this was in fact some kind of hoax, but we can’t determine that at the moment,” he added.

With a report from CTV Kitchener

Patchogue Theatre celebrated as village’s past and future

Patchogue Theatre celebrated as village’s past and future

The Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts has played a major role in the revitalization of downtown Patchogue. In 1997, work began to restore the venue to its 1923 grandeur. Today, the theater draws hundreds to its many productions and events.

Village officials hand starlet Betty Davis the keys
Photo Credit: Hans Henke

Officials at the height of the Hollywood studio period presented actress Betty Davis with the keys to the village for premiering a film at the Patchogue Theatre in the 1920s.

A flyer informing of events at the Patchogue
Photo Credit: Hans Henke

A flyer, with a date of May 23, announces events at the Patchogue Theatre.

A pair of non-refundable tickets to see
Photo Credit: Hans Henke

A pair of nonrefundable tickets to see “Titanic” from the Sept. 29, 1999, performance.

New construction near the old Patchogue Theatre on
Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas R. Koeniges

New construction near the old Patchogue Theatre on East Main Street on June 7, 1989.

The Patchogue Theatre for the Perorming Arts is
Photo Credit: Joe Epstein

The village now owns the theater building — seen here on June 15, 2009 — which is managed by the nonprofit Patchogue Village Center for the Performing Arts Inc.

Patchogue, NY, Sunday April 18, 2010: Theatre goers

Patchogue, NY, Sunday April 18, 2010: Theatre goers

Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Theatregoers queue up outside the Patchogue Theatre, where the Long Island Philharmonic performed.

Mamie Parris performs "Life of the Party" during

Mamie Parris performs "Life of the Party" during

Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Mamie Parris performs “Life of the Party” during the 20th anniversary celebration of the Patchogue Theatre on May 16, 2018.

The revitalized downtown district of Patchogue. View of

The revitalized downtown district of Patchogue. View of

Photo Credit: Ivy Neal

The revitalized downtown district of Patchogue seen on May 14, 2016.

Joseph Vecsey performs during comedy night at the

Joseph Vecsey performs during comedy night at the

Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Joseph Vecsey performs during comedy night at the opening of The Loading Dock, a speak-easy at the Patchogue Theatre on March 15, 2018.

Guests and attendees celebrate the big reveal during

Guests and attendees celebrate the big reveal during

Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Guests and attendees celebrate the big reveal during the 20th anniversary celebration ceremony of the Patchogue Theatre on May 16, 2018.

A view from the back of the theatre

A view from the back of the theatre

Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A view from the back of the Patchogue Theatre at the opening of The Loading Dock on March 15, 2018.

The old seats at the Patchogue Theatre for

The old seats at the Patchogue Theatre for

Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The old seats at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts were removed on Jan. 5, 2016, for the historic venue’s multimillion-dollar renovation. 

Workers were carrying away the old seats at

Workers were carrying away the old seats at

Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Workers carry away the old seats at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Jan. 5, 2016.

The Patchogue Theatre, for the Performing Arts, show

The Patchogue Theatre, for the Performing Arts, show

Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The Patchogue Theatre, for the Performing Arts, show here on Feb. 22, 2014, has played a major role in the revitalization of downtown Patchogue. In 1997, work began to restore the venue to its 1923 grandeur. Today, the theater draws hundreds to its many productions and events.

People walk up and down east main street

People walk up and down east main street

Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

People walk past the Patchogue Theatre during the Alive After Five street festival on Aug. 20, 2015.

Augusta eyes plans to turn mill into cultural hub

Augusta eyes plans to turn mill into cultural hub

Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city, leads a tour on Friday of the transformer building in Mill Park in Augusta. It is the last building standing from the Edwards Mill complex. Officials are exploring a proposal to renovate and re-purpose the building, perhaps as a heritage center, gallery or museum, a visitors center, a cafe or restaurant. JOE PHELAN/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Plans to restore and re-purpose the only remaining building of the massive riverfront Edwards mill complex may rely on attracting a private developer or organization with $3 million to spend.

The complex at one time employed thousands of Franco-Americans who came to Augusta to create a better life for their families by toiling and sweating in the cotton mill.

Advocates for renovating the piece of Augusta’s working-class history for new uses — such as a cafe and museum or heritage center — say it could pay tribute to the people whose labor fueled the growth of the city and could draw visitors to an area they say is a largely undiscovered gem.

“I felt compelled to do this project because I believe in the history of the people who worked here to help develop the city,” said Jan Michaud, of Augusta, leader of the nonprofit group Friends for a Heritage Center in Mill Park. “Especially because their offspring are part of our community today and many of them are doctors and lawyers and business people and community folks, firefighters, police officers, who make Augusta a good place to live. There is so much we need to share.”

A majority of city councilors agreed informally on Thursday to have city staff put together a request for proposals seeking a developer, business person or any other entity with the ability, interest and funds. The proposal would call for redeveloping the two-story, 30-by-60 foot, brick structure, known as the transformer building, which is currently only used by the city for storage.

Councilors heard a presentation from architects Thursday, who worked with a city committee to come up with potential concepts for how to re-purpose the building. They outlined a design concept for the building featuring space for a heritage center, gallery or museum, a visitors center, a cafe or restaurant, and an addition to the building to provide restrooms that could be used both by visitors to the building but also by users of the sprawling city park.

The architect, Judy Johnson, said it would cost an estimated $3 million to restore and re-purpose the building in that way. With the addition and two existing floors, the building would total 5,489 square feet.

Mayor David Rollins and At-Large City Councilor Corey Wilson expressed skepticism a private developer would step forward to make that much of an investment. The building seems too small to contain a restaurant large enough to recoup a $3 million investment, Wilson said.

Michaud and some city councilors said the city won’t know whether seeking a developer or organization to take on the project will be successful, unless it tries.

At-Large City Councilor Marci Alexander said visitors to the park, where an increasing number of summer events are being scheduled, could provide potential customers to a business locating in the building. And users of the park would benefit from having a nice public restroom. Now, the only restrooms at the park are portable toilets.

“It is a marvelous idea,” Wilson said. “But I, not to be mean, but I don’t know that there is going to be a whole lot of developers who want to spend $3 million on a restaurant of that small size. The return on investment would be pretty minimal. There may be some organizations genuinely interested in furthering the city of Augusta and the community, who’d do it out of, maybe, their generosity. But from an investment perspective, I wouldn’t think they’d see it as a good investment.”

“This little business would have access to all those people,” Alexander said of attendees who come to the farmers market in the park, or to music, food and brew festivals planned there, or nearby, this summer. “I’d love to see this. Maine is known for its hard workers. I totally get that mill job and culture and family atmosphere of what it took to do those mill jobs. And I like the idea of doing it through private development.”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti suggested the city could issue a bond to borrow funds to convert the building. She said the city should be public-minded about preserving its public buildings.

Michaud said when she approached city officials a few years ago about the project, she was told she had to “wait her turn,” as a new Cony High School, new MaineGeneral Medical Center, and expanded and renovated Lithgow Public Library were built.

Rollins said those projects each involved a significant amount of fundraising to provide private dollars to help pay for them. He said public-private partnerships have proven to be a successful model major for building projects in Augusta. However, he also expressed concerns trying to restore the mill building, which is inside Mill Park off Canal Street, could compete with the already underway efforts to raise funds to restore the Colonial Theatre, a short distance away on Water Street.

“Nobody would love seeing that building used as a cultural center and all the ways you talked about it than I would,” Rollins said. “To say we’re just going to bond this, I don’t think that would be successful. To put it out as a request for proposals, I spent a year observing that process at the Statler site, and that model has not been successful.”

Last year the city issued a request for proposals seeking a developer to redevelop the also city-owned former Statler mill site, across the river from Mill Park. It got no responses.

Michaud said fundraising isn’t her area of expertise and that her interest is in history and preservation, but she said she’d be willing to help. She and others have, over the last several years, interviewed 80 area residents who worked at the old cotton mill, Statler, former shoe factories and former Kirschner meat plant, about their lives and work in Augusta, to preserve their stories. Video footage of those interviews, she said, could be part of the heritage center in the only remaining building from the mill complex.

The friends group and city had hoped to get grant funding for the project, but have, so far, been unsuccessful.

Mill Park overlooks the Kennebec River and has seen the addition of amenities in recent years including a riverwalk paved walkway around its perimeter, a petanque court and a dog park.

The remaining building on the site was built between 1910 and 1920 to house transformers that used electricity from the dam to power the mill.The city acquired the 17 acres of now park-land and the last mill building as part of a deal between the city, state and former owners of the mill, to remove Edwards dam. The dam previously powered the mill and, up until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered it to be removed in 1998, still produced some electricity, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

“It truly is a gem in this city and, up to this point, a very underutilized site,” Michaud said of the park and former mill building. “You’ve got to know the history you’re going to lose if you simply allow that building to rot. I’m disgusted by the idea of not doing something about it. I keep saying let’s put something in there that is going to draw crowds to this end of town.”

Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city, said the old building is structurally sound, and has steel beams and a concrete roof. He said it is currently used for storage but agreed it is likely time to consider what the highest and best use for the building could be.

Dahlin pointed to the Sea Dog restaurant and bar, located in a riverside former mill building in Topsham, which displays old mill equipment on its walls and ceiling, as an example of re-purposing an old building for a new use while preserving some of its heritage.

Johnson said the proposed design for the building would seek to highlight its historic architecture, including large arched windows which have been partially filled in with bricks. The building is built into a hill and the design would use that elevation change to provide access, including to people with disabilities, to both floors of the building without an elevator. The design would lower the existing second floor, which was built covering part of the windows, to let in more natural light.

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