RD177 - Report on the Stewardship and Status of Virginia’s State-Owned Historic Property: 2021–2023 – May 2021
Since the last biennial report the Commonwealth has been thrust, with the rest of the world, into new challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Added to this new dimension of challenges, the Commonwealth still struggles in efforts to maintain and utilize its diverse, fragile historic resources as economic strain and budget reductions have continued. State agencies still most often cite funding as the primary obstacle in maintaining their historic properties.
Many state agencies do not have in-house professional preservation staff and are unaware that DHR is here to assist them. The Department is primarily contacted within the context of a required review process, yet the architectural historians, archaeologists, and other preservation professionals at DHR welcome opportunities to work with sister agencies. Early consultation is always best, as agencies make decisions that impact the historic properties in their control. DHR is committed to more effective communication with agencies so that these preservation opportunities are better understood.
There is good news to report in the last biennium. There was a definite increase in efforts by many state agencies to embrace their responsibilities as stewards of historic properties, as will be evident in this report’s section entitled Models of Exemplary Stewardship.
The Commonwealth is still unlikely to be in a financial position to pursue all of the recommendations laid out in this stewardship report; however, we encourage state agencies to continue to engage with DHR on the 2017 Executive Order, which specifies:
• Pursuing listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) of historically significant properties;
• Using the state’s highway marker program to help educate the public about Virginia’s rich history and promote tourism in the Commonwealth;
• Preparing and implementing treatment plans, historic structure reports, and preservation master plans to guide stewardship of historic properties;
• Exploring long term leases and resident curator agreements for vacant state-owned historic buildings or other structures to leverage private investment in the rehabilitation and maintenance of under-utilized resources;
• Proactively pursuing energy efficiency measures and addressing deferred maintenance backlogs as outlined in Executive Order No. 31, with the goal of preservation and conservation;
• Working with DHR and the DGS to consider purchasing or leasing historic buildings and adapting them for reuse prior to acquiring, constructing, or leasing additional buildings (as is feasible); and
• Designating one staff member as an agency preservation officer to serve as a liaison with DHR and to coordinate the stewardship activities of the agency under this order, applicable statutes, and other provisions.
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 eighth biennial report affirms 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 history of African Americans, Virginia Indians, immigrants, women and LGBTQ+ persons. 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. This year, DHR has rejoined efforts with the Capitol Square Preservation Council to prepare a major update to the nomination for the Virginia State Capitol, including documentation for the first time of the capitol grounds and cultural landscape.
• 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 impedes DHR’s ability to administer its own programs, assist other state agencies, and for those agencies to fully understand and take into account the historic resources in their control.
• Since the last State Stewardship Report, the original transfer of portions of Fort Monroe to the National Park Service for use as a designated National Monument is complete. However, there are discussions between Fort Monroe Authority (FMA), NPS, and the Commonwealth to transfer the Wherry Quarter (Parcel 4). Additionally, the Army retains Dog Beach at the northern end of the property. Transfer to the NPS stalled due to back and forth between the Army and NPS regarding environmental remediation. Regardless, the continued management and sustainable redevelopment of this nationally significant property by FMA must remain one of the Commonwealth’s most important stewardship priorities.
• Governor Northam’s directive that the Commonwealth should commit to, and prioritize historic justice through recognizing and interpreting the stories and the experiences of all Virginians is yielding results (for one example, see pp. 9–12 about the Unmarked Cemetery at Central State Hospital).
• 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, which are effective tools for educating the public about Virginia’s history and promoting tourism.
• State agencies should seek meeting 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. More information can be found by downloading a PowerPoint on Sustainable Design & Historic Preservation, prepared by DHR. Or visit DHR’s webpage Best Practices Stewardship of State-Owned Historic Property and scroll down to information about Green Preservation.
• There are thousands of acres under Commonwealth ownership that contain both known and unknown cemeteries. Each cemetery is a unique resource and each contains the mortal remains of human beings that should be treated with honor and care. It is important that state agencies and institutions of higher education with cemeteries on their properties address the treatment of these historic burial grounds and reach out to DHR regarding our recommendation standards (see Appendix “E" (pp. 75–81, Cemeteries on State-Owned Lands).
• DHR supports Governor Ralph Northam’s cross-agency effort to increase statewide resilience to natural hazards and extreme weather, as laid out in Executive Order 24 (2018). DHR initiatives have included:
*Participating in a regional analysis of coastal risk (organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Atlantic Division) to identify measures to address cultural resources vulnerabilities from impending sea-level rise and study strategies for coastal risk reduction; and
*Creating GIS layers to assess state-owned historic resources that will be impacted by sea-level rise; and
*Assessing the impacts of sea-level rise and extreme weather on historic resources and providing state agencies guidance in proactive planning for these resources.