RD132 - Biennial Report on the Stewardship of State-Owned Properties - May 1, 2013

Executive Summary:
The past two years have been a time of considerable challenge as the Commonwealth has simultaneously grappled with a struggling economy and increasing demands on its financial resources. Not surprisingly, agencies have put plans on hold, deferred critical maintenance and made decisions based on short-term necessity. Over the long- and even medium-term, such a strategy can present problems for the often fragile and certainly diverse resources in the Commonwealth’s inventory of historic buildings assets. These assets carry financial value and may also be culturally valuable to residents and visitors alike.

The two years covered by this report represent a time of some pushes and pulls in particular areas. Historic preservation—the act of reinvesting and recycling our building stock—is often the most environmentally sustainable and economically prudent approach. Of concern is the well-intentioned but often misguided employment of quick and heavy-handed fixes, especially in regard to meeting energy conservation goals, and the associated high cost and resulting harm that results from such approaches. Out of a lack of understanding, precious dollars can be wasted and high-quality, serviceable building fabric and character discarded in the attempt to make a building more efficient. Sales pitches and hype to the contrary, the payback period for quick fixes such as wholesale window replacement makes such treatments a poor investment. Moreover, thoughtful and sensitive approaches are available to address heat loss in ways that serve energy conservation, preservation and the wise use of taxpayer dollars. DHR will continue to reach out to partners to educate them about options for achieving multiple goals at lower costs. During this same period, a number of state agencies have managed to model exemplary stewardship as custodians of historic properties in their care. Despite stretched capacity, these leaders take seriously their role as stewards of the historic resources. In contrast, other agencies seem to undervalue the significance of the historic properties entrusted to them and thus continue to rebuff encouragement to plan for their protection and care. Working with agencies to foster a better understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of good stewardship will remain a high priority for DHR.

While this report celebrates the successes of the past two years, it also reveals that a significant number of the recommendations set forth in proceeding reports remain unrealized. For example, a goal of the legislation mandating this report was to encourage the recognition of significant state-owned properties through additional listings on the Virginia Landmarks Register. Thus DHR was directed to report priority lists and work with agencies toward that end. Only one additional property was listed during the past two years, bringing the total of state-owned listings to 120. This significant shift in interest in pursuing listing appears tied to resources; it is regrettable given the proven educational and planning benefits of listing as a tool.

Later this year, a singular event—the transfer of Fort Monroe to state ownership—will finally be realized. The Commonwealth’s imminent acquisition of Fort Monroe, which will trigger an enormous stewardship commitment when the property is returned to the Commonwealth by the U.S. Army through the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), has required intense planning and preparation among various stakeholders. DHR, along with many national, state and local partners, has been very engaged in the BRAC process and it is expected that this transition and the management of the site will remain a primary focus of DHR over the next several years.

Another notable priority that will continue into the next biennium period is the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. This endeavor continues to draw thousands of visitors to the Commonwealth and serves to remind people across the United States and around the world of Virginia’s prominent role in the founding and shaping of this nation. Thanks to the leadership of the Governor and General Assembly and its Sesquicentennial Commission, the Commonwealth will continue to place an emphasis on battlefield stewardship as a legacy of this time.

The Commonwealth has not been, nor is it likely to be, in a financial position to pursue all of the recommendations contained in this stewardship report. Thus it is appropriate to include both unfulfilled goals as well as new stewardship priorities in need of focused attention. Mindful that state agencies have limited resources, DHR has deliberately tried to develop goals that are both realistic and attainable, including some that could be accomplished without significant cost.

In addition to the content mandated by Senate Bill 462 adding § 10.1-2202.3, this report includes sections on DHR’s own initiatives to promote stewardship as well as case studies of exemplary state stewardship by other agencies.

This fourth biennial report reaffirms that:

• The Commonwealth’s real estate holdings include a rich and diverse collection of historically significant properties, some of national and international importance.

• The Commonwealth as a whole benefits when leaders understand that preservation makes good environmental sense as well as good economic sense and is integral to conserving energy. This understanding on the part of state agencies promotes an ethic of stewardship.

• Certain types of state-owned historic properties are under-represented on the Virginia Landmarks Register, especially those related to institutions of higher education, the Civil War, and the history of African Americans, Virginia Indians, and women. This should be addressed through strategic additions to the Virginia Landmarks Register.

• The seat of state government—the area surrounding the State Capitol—includes buildings that together contribute to a tangible identity of state government. It is appropriate that, as a collection, this historic district be documented and honored through inclusion on the Virginia Landmarks Register.

• DHR’s existing inventory and assessment of historic state-owned properties is so out of date as to be of limited use. The inadequacy of the information impacts DHR’s ability to administer its own programs, assist other state agencies and for those agencies to understand and take into account the historic resources in their control.

• The transfer of Fort Monroe to the Commonwealth in 2013 and beyond must remain a high priority for the Commonwealth. The responsible management and financially sustainable development of this nationally-significant site must be among the Commonwealth’s most important stewardship priorities.

• Institutions of higher education need to model better stewardship by taking their historic resources into account when preparing master plans and should celebrate their register-eligible properties through listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register and/or state highway markers, both of which are effective tools for the education of the public regarding Virginia’s rich history and promotion of tourism.

• State agencies should seek to meet energy efficiency and sustainability goals through best-preservation practices. Despite assumptions to the contrary, stewardship is very often the most cost-effective investment of scarce resources. At a time when we all must make every dollar count, the act of reinvesting and recycling our historic buildings is both environmentally sustainable and economically prudent.