Historic window replacement to begin
July 11, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (July 3, 2014) - It's been a long time coming, with much back and forth between levels of government and command, but U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir finally signed a Memorandum Agreement, June 9 that will see the majority of windows replaced in historic housing on post over the next two decades.
The construction could get under way by the end of July or early August, and will continue for the next 15 years as Soldiers move in and out of the historic units. The agreement also sets out a number of mitigations that the Fort Belvoir community will notice getting under way this summer.
The issue of historic windows came to the attention of Garrison Command in 2009, and it formed a partnership with the Directorate of Public Works, Fort Belvoir Residential Communities, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to draft a solution to replace and rehabilitate windows in the historic homes in Gerber, Jadwin, and Belvoir Villages. Some of the windows are as old as 80 years, but because they are designated as historic, replacing them is not as easy is popping them out and putting in new ones.
"Those buildings are all held in stewardship for all people, technically. They're a resource. While people live in them now, they're a part of our heritage, so the installation is required under the National Historic Preservation Act to protect them," said Christopher Daniel, Fort Belvoir's architectural historian, contracted through URS Corporation. Daniel manages Fort Belvoir's Cultural Resource Program, part of the Directorate of Public Works' Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
When FBRC took over housing on post in 2003, residents identified more pressing concerns, such as the need to upgrade kitchens and bathrooms in the historic units. The renovation of windows was put off; until Col. Gregory D. Gadson became the garrison commander in 2012 and identified it as a priority. Gadson said he believed the Soldiers living in the units deserved better.
"When I first heard about the problem, it wasn't acceptable. We're asking for something that was not to standard," Gadson said. "If you were living in a civilian economy, you wouldn't be paying that kind of rent for windows that didn't work, and beside that, I felt very strongly that it was a safety hazard. I didn't think it was a good idea to continue to let this problem fester and not have a solution."
"That was what really encouraged us to come up with a plan of attack to tackle this issue," said Casey Nolan, project director for Clark Realty Capital, who has partnered with FBRC. He added that some complaints began to come in from residents, as well.
Residents reported windows with peeling paint, and some that didn't open at all. Nolan said FBRC ensured that every room had at least one working window in case of an emergency, but the windows were simply maintained as is, according to Daniel.
"The windows on all our houses have just been left in a maintenance state, so they've been painted, maintained, but they haven't gotten an overhaul," Daniel said. "All the windows were in a myriad of states, either okay, not great, or weren't opening. That isn't a good state to be in if we're serving our Soldiers and their Families."
And so, the partnership was formed. Daniel said the solution wasn't as simple as replacing all the windows, or rehabilitating all of them.
"For most folks, that seems like a very logical solution, just replace the windows; but from a preservation and cultural heritage perspective, that is actually one of the most adverse things you can do to a historic structure," Daniel said.
Chris Landgraf, master planner for DPW, said it was important to maintain the historical aesthetic of the windows and home as a whole.
"It would be a shame to lose that integrity just because we needed new windows," he said.
Over the course of several years, they worked out a plan to replace the windows in 102 units, and 34 units will have their windows rehabilitated. In 2009, four mockup windows were created by FBRC, and the partnership selected one as the best replacement candidate.
The next step was to see the rehabilitated historic window and the new replacement in action, which was achieved in 2012 by taking a home in Gerber Village offline, and rehabbing all the windows except for one, which was replaced. That pilot house allowed the groups concerned to determine all the steps it would take to turn a unit around.
"We have a good handle on what it takes to do a home in Gerber Village," Nolan said, adding that each home is different because of the unique construction of the windows. "These homes are 80 years old. Until you take these windows out, you don't know the price and the time it's going to take."
The pilot house showed that both windows will be equally beneficial.
"Both windows are going to be wonderful for the Soldiers and their Family, but the replacement window provides everything we need and it's quicker, and requires less maintenance cost in the long run to the Army," Daniel said.
The challenge with replacing historic windows is that each window was custom-built to the home in which it was placed.
"When windows were built back then they were not pre-fabricated out of a shop. They were actually constructed -- typically on site -- and made by a craftsman," Daniel said. "It isn't cookie cutter."
The pilot house was a successs, and Daniel predicts that once the plan gets underway, Soldiers and their Families will be happy with the results.
"The pilot house that was done, the windows in that house were fantastic, and if all the historic windows are brought to that standard, nobody should be upset when living in a historic home," he said. "The replacement window was also fantastic, so those windows will be equally well received. I think no longer will there be complaints about windows in housing."
Each rehabilitated window will be stripped and redone, and an interior storm window pane will be added.
Certain areas of the three villages will see all the windows rehabbed to maintain historical integrity, including the homes in Belvoir Village that face the Potomac River, the Gerber Village units surrounding a central green space and one corner unit in Jadwin Loop Village.
"Whether it's a replacement or a rehabilitated window, when you're driving down the street, you wouldn't know the difference," Nolan said.
The resulting Memorandum Agreement that was signed by all parties June 9 will now be used to lead other installations as they tackle similar issues down the line.
"It was a very complex decision process, and it's a process that not every installation has gone through, but is going to probably have to go through," Daniel said. "Belvoir and our partners recognized that since we're leading the way, we better make sure we do it right the first time."
The process, in which Daniel played a major role, was lauded by FBRC, the SHPO, the ACHP, DPW, and garrison officials. Landgraf said DPW was impressed early on that so many scenarios had been worked through and tested.
Nolan said FBRC will slowly budget the window costs in their budget over the next 15 years. He estimates it is a $20 million project that can't be done all at once. He said FBRC will be slating a home in Belvoir Village to become the next pilot house.
"The bottom line is, over the next 10 to 15 years, we'll have a plan in place to either replace or rehab the windows," Nolan said.
The mitigations set out in the Memorandum Agreement will begin this summer. The first step is for FBRC to produce a pamphlet to educate new renters about living in a historic home as they move in. Historic signage in the villages will follow. One of the major mitigations will be new signage and trail maintenance at the Belvoir Manor ruins. That project was spearheaded by Gadson and Deputy to the Garrison Commander Stephen Brooks who believed that site was in need of maintenance, as well.