November 27, 2011 by: Ben Heimsath

This is the fourth and final installment of the series.

Myth No. 9:  “A historic building doesn’t need to be accessible.”  

If it is a public building then it does have to meet the intent of the accessibility code. The code does allow some leeway for historic structures, but at least one accessible entrance is required and at least one accessible restroom. Be sure to be sensitive to the historic fabric of your building.  New accessible entrances can often be incorporated into the landscape and not cause significant impact on the building.  Often accessible restrooms can be located in adjacent structures.building preservation myths accessible entry resized 600

By extending the level walkway, the historic entry was made accessible.

Even though the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) does have some exemptions for historic structures, they are limited to areas that are integral to the historic integrity and can't be readily changed or modified.  That doesn't exempt an owner from accommodating someone with disabilities.  It may only mean they must do something else to meet their needs.

Myth No. 10:  “Stone and brick structures will last forever.” 

There is some truth to this myth, but maintenance is still required.  Masonry should be checked regularly for damage. After determining what is causing any damage, have stained, discolored areas cleaned using appropriate gentle cleaning methods – do not use bleach on limestone.  It’s cheap, but it does more damage than good, and that damage might not show up for years.  Repoint open mortar joints, repair/replace cracked stone or brick with appropriate mortar and patching mix.  Make sure irrigation is not spraying directly on the building – drip irrigation is best.  Keep it at least 3’-0 away from building foundation.  Check for water damage to masonry walls – look for rising damp from below and water infiltration from roof/downspouts leaks, windows, sills, parapet caps, projecting elements.


Building preservation myths time capsule resized 600 This time-capsule was salvaged when the damaged limestone was repaired.

Myth Number 11:  "The old building won't fit our needs." 

If there's not enough room, then a restoration program can and should include an appropriate expansion or addition.  We've added new entries, new stairs, elevators and bathrooms, and sometime even doubled or tripled the total square footage, even as we've preserved an original historic structure.

building preservation myths bungalowBut this myth persists most often when an owner sees only the existing layout or the existing use of a given space that's not working every well.  If only they could see what happens with a little creativity.  Changing walls, or rearranging circulation paths can have a huge impact and completely change the functionality of a space.  Sometimes new interior finishes, lighting or other materials can be introduced as a way of highlighting or contrasting with the older, historic parts of the building.  Some of the most memorable spaces are designed with both new and old details, which makes them more exciting than a completely new space.

We've also seen some serious problems that didn't have to do with the use of the space, but rather the poor management of storage.  Many groups have been using old buildings for so long, they continually add new uses without ever fully changing from the previous one.   The best remedy for clogged spaces is to take a step back and look realistically at both the rooms and the programs.  A fresh approach, and a massive yard sale have brought many old buildings back to life!


We've collected all 11 preservation myths in one document.  Download it here.

Download Historic Preservation - 11 Myths






Church Design & Construction/ Adaptive Re-use/ Historic Preservation