- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

VERMONTVILLE, Mich. (AP) - They don’t build them like this anymore. That’s what restoration experts found out recently at Vermontville’s landmark “chapel.”

The old-growth pine that was used to construct each 12-pane window in the historical community building on Vermontville’s Main Street, isn’t like anything used by builders today, according to the Lansing State Journal ( https://on.lsj.com/1hPqTw1 ).

From the 171-year-old building’s second story Robin Adair, of Adair Restoration in Ann Arbor, details the worth of a material long gone.

“It’s something that you just can’t get anymore,” he said, of the Chapel’s wood windows. “It was harvested back in the 1850s and it’s just amazingly rot resistant and naturally hardy wood.”

For two weeks, April 7-18, Adair served as instructor to eight students from throughout the state selected to take part in the Michigan Preservation Historic Network’s latest Window Restoration Job Training effort.

The program, now in its seventh year, came to Vermontville for 10 days where the group got hands-on training in the restoration of a portion of the historic building’s 22 windows.

According to Nancy Finegood, the network’s director, it costs $20,000 to conduct each project but the benefit is twofold.

Since the grant-funded job training program’s start, the network has trained over 100 unemployed or under-employed people the skills needed for window restoration. A dozen communities, including Lansing, Detroit and Kalamazoo, have been impacted by the projects, during which students complete restoration efforts at significant sites.

Vermontville resident and local historical society member Doug Kelsey said the village applied for the chapel to be chosen as a workshop site in February.

The building is owned and maintained by the First Congregational Church, across Main Street, and currently serves as Vermontville’s historical museum, where many items are displayed. But its significance runs deeper than that, said Kelsey.

Built in 1843 on two acres of city-owned property, the building has been everything from a chapel to a school. In 1970 the Michigan Historical Commission designated it a historical landmark building. Two years later it was placed on the National Registry of Historical Buildings.

“This has just been such an integral building in the community’s life,” said Kelsey. “It means a lot to a lot of people to see some things done to this building.”

Kelsey said once Vermontville’s chapel was selected as a training site, community members stepped up to help by offering breakfasts and lunches for the students who spent every day working at the property.

For his part, Kelsey offered lodging for those coming from far away, like Daniel Hershberger, 57, of Plymouth.

Through the program Hershberger, whose been unemployed since October of 2012, hopes to learn the skills needed to open his own, small restoration company.

“This is the first formal training I’ve had in anything like this,” he said. “It’s kind of a lost art skill and I’m hoping a second career for me.”

Adair said the workshop is a real opportunity for students, who learn everything from how to remove lead-based paint safely to the importance of restoring windows using period replacement parts. They also get a day’s worth of financial advice to help them start their own venture.

“It’s about teaching them a trade as well as preserving our local history, said Adair, who has been teaching the workshops since their start in Michigan. “At the completion, they have the complete knowledge to go on and start their own window restoration business.”

For Detriot resident Amy Swift, 31, taking part in the recent workshop was about learning the skills needed to rehabilitate and restore two properties she owns back home.

Swift said she hopes to renovate the two houses she bought in Detroit, built between 1890 and 1914, into duplexes. Paying to have the windows restored was cost prohibitive, she said, and now the workshop training will give her the skills needed to do that work herself.

“I like to focus on reuse of materials,” said Swift. “I think it’s the most sustainable way to go about construction and I don’t want to replace vinyl windows in 30 years. Anything that I can do to add to my hand skills is great.”

In total, eight windows in the historic building were restored, but Kelsey said a few local residents, including Maple Valley High School Industrial Arts Teacher Jeff Seavolt, were selected to take part in the workshop. What they’ve learned will hopefully pave the way for the restoration of the remainder in the future, he said.

Seavolt said he hopes to use what he’s learned during the workshop as a teaching tool at the local high school. He said he hopes to engage students in an effort to further the restoration soon.

“We could re-manufacture the shutters in our program,” said Seavolt. “We could put some of the storm windows on. To be able to bring those skills back to teach kids entrepreneurship and give them a niche for a career is a big deal.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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