Restoration trades school coming soon

The deteriorating building at 1515 Madison, the former site of the notorious Colonial Inn, will become a working classroom for people learning restoration trades.

City turns Colonial Inn into hands-on classroom; Building Industry Association to run workshop-based academy

COVINGTON, Ky. – For years, the massive three-story building at 1515 Madison Ave. has been a drain on Covington taxpayers, first as a frequent source of drug and prostitution complaints that got it a spot on the reality TV program COPS, and later as an abandoned eyesore that required its sudden new owner – the City – to cut its grass and keep it boarded up.

Soon, however, that will change.

The former Colonial Inn motel with its veranda-roofed porch, gabled dormers, and exquisite woodwork will begin contributing to the City and its residents as a hands-on, working laboratory for the soon-to-open Covington Academy of Heritage Trades, teaching a new generation of construction workers the increasingly rare skills required to restore historic buildings to their former glory.

“The City bought the 1515 Madison in 2016 (as part of a consent decree), and it’s basically been a liability since then,” Economic Development Director Tom West told the Covington Board of Commissioners recently. “But we have an opportunity now to turn that liability into an asset.

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the Board will vote on two items listed on its “consent” agenda that will create that asset:

  • One, an agreement to lease the building to the Building Industry Association of Northern Kentucky (BIA) for four years on the condition that BIA create a non-profit organization to oversee the new school and raise funds for its long-term sustainability.
  • Two, to provide BIA with $250,000 from the City’s allocation of federal American Recovery Plan Act funds to be used to stabilize the building (and make it safe) and to give tuition scholarships to Covington residents to attend the school’s workshops, as well as provide them with equipment.

The school will be based in the Latonia Commerce Center (formerly the Latonia shopping center), where the BIA’s Enzweiler Building Institute is building a new Covington location of its long-running construction trades school in Erlanger. The inaugural school year for the larger, construction trades campus is scheduled to run Jan. 31-June 1, 2023, said Vicki Berling, its Director of Professional Development.

(The Academy of Heritage Trades, which will be attached to the Enzweiler Institute, was described in two earlier City-written articles, “From window weights to wagon-wheel molding” and “Heritage trades employers invited to Tuesday discussion”.)

The building at 1515 Madison will serve as a hands-on classroom where workers can learn how to restore historic buildings, which training that focuses on things like tuckpointing old masonry, box gutters, and stained-glass windows. Eventually, the work will culminate in the transformation of the dilapidated building into office space, West said. At that point, the City would transfer ownership of the building to the BIA to sell, with the proceeds being reinvested back into the school.

“What better way to learn restoration trades than working on a historic building?” West told the Commission.

Coming soon

Introductory workshops could begin as early as February, with singularly focused workshops beginning in late spring, Berling said.

Before then, a standalone website linked to Enzweiler Building Institute’s website will be set up to further explain the curriculum and workshop options and allow people to enroll.

She said tuition will be kept as low as possible with the help of contributions, scholarships, and potential arrangements with future employers. West said the City has documented more than 200 employers, potential donors, students, and instructors who intend to support or attend the academy.

“The No. 1 goal is to keep the cost as affordable as possible for the average working person,” Berling said. “We’re here to train people in these desperately needed skills.”

For the City, West said, the school is a workforce development priority that will:

  • Increase the skills of Covington residents to secure higher-wage jobs in the construction trades.
  • Promote the preservation and restoration of historic structures in a city that is more than 200 years old.
  • Reduce the cost of preservation by increasing the supply of workers skilled in heritage trades.
  • Help the industry meet growing workforce demands amid a shortage of skilled labor.

Builders and contractors – many of whom say that labor shortage is causing schedules to be delayed and projects to be drawn out -- say they can’t wait.

“We’re completely rallying around the Academy of Heritage Trades,” said Collin Boucher, who does recruiting and hiring for Manning Contracting and thus is always looking for skilled workers to help with reuse and preservation work. “In general, there’s a lack of labor – specifically in construction – from carpenters all the way to project executives and superintendents.”

About the school

Curriculum for the school was created with feedback from local contractors and builders, advice from the Kentucky Heritage Council, and expertise of consultant Bob Yapp of Preservation Resources USA. Yapp operates a similar school in Missouri and is viewed as the nation’s foremost expert on such programs.

The collaborative effort was funded by state grants sought and received by the City. The partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council will continue as two additional grants have been awarded – one to assist in the hiring of instructors and a second to assist with getting the various credentials certified by state education officials.

  • Initially, the school will teach a variety of trades and skills:
  • Preservation masonry.
  • Wood and steel window restoration and weatherization.
  • Plaster repair.
  • Preservation carpentry.
  • Wood floor repair and restoration.
  • Painting historic properties.
  • Stained glass repair and restoration.
  • Box gutter repair and restoration.
  • And separate workshops for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems in old and historic buildings.

Potential “types” of students (with workshops perhaps tailored to each) include:

  • Unskilled, under-served people looking to be employed in the field.
  • Skilled or unskilled people wanting to start a restoration-based business.
  • Existing small contractors who want to add restoration to their portfolio of work.
  • Current employees of contractors.

The school will be workshop-based and taught by professionals. The number of hours required to obtain a Certificate of Competency in a particular restoration skill or trade will vary. There will also be separate levels depending on whether the student is currently a skilled worker.

For example, a historic masonry certificate for an unskilled worker could require 216 hours, while a skilled worker needing to expand their knowledge to include the historic aspect of masonry could need only 112 hours. Likewise, a workshop that focused on box gutters could require 136 hours and 120 hours.

Berling said the introductory three-day workshops would help students decide which trade they wanted to pursue.

“At that point, we hope that they’re able to focus on a plan and narrow their training and schooling,” she said.

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