Emergency/Intervention Funding: A Tale of Fire and Rejuvenation

By Diana Maxwell posted 08-29-2014 10:58


 College Street Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont, used I/E funding to plan for repairs to its fire-damaged steeple.| Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont.

When your historic building is damaged by a storm or fire, it can be difficult to imagine where funding will come from to bring it back to its former glory.The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Emergency/Intervention (E/I) funding may be able to help.

We would love to help save all the old buildings that suffer damage each year, but our funding for emergency purposes is quite limited, so we do have some restrictions. Applicants need to be a Forum-level member of the National Trust, and must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or a government agency. Like with the majority of the NTHP’s grant funds, E/I funds can only be used for planning purposes. This means that E/I funds cannot go toward the cleanup or bricks-and-mortar reconstruction of a building. Instead we can pay for your organization to bring in professionals, such as a structural engineer, to create a renovation plan for the building. The good news is that since this work probably wasn’t included in your annual budget, we don’t require a cash match for your grant.
So what do we consider an emergency? Intervention funding from the National Trust is awarded in emergency situations when immediate and unanticipated work is needed to save a historic structure. In general, the event that causes the damage has to have been recent, as in the last few weeks or months, and it can’t be something that could’ve been prevented. Damage due to a fire, flood, or high winds is a good example. But not every emergency is brought on by a natural disaster. Funding can also be used to support advocacy campaigns in response to pending legislation or development pressures. We’re always happy to talk through your situation and help you if your project qualifies and we have funding available.

Timbers in the College Street Congregational Church follwing the fire.| Credit: Preservation Trust of VermontLet’s look at a real life example. On October 23, 2013, a fire broke out in the east bell tower of the College Street Congregational Church, an 1866 Gothic-revival style church in Burlington, Vermont. Thanks to its location near a fire station, the fire was contained before it spread to the rest of the building, but enough damage was done to the steeple that it needed to be removed. A few days after the fire, Ann Cousins of the Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV) called the National Trust Grants Office to talk about the fire. After reviewing the online grant application submitted by PTV on behalf of the church, we were able to identify some funding and a $5,000 Intervention Fund grant was made to PTV. In an email to Forum, Cousins explained that with the grant, “the College Street Church Restoration Committee was able to hire master timber-framer, Jan Lewandoski, to delineate the historic structural system with an eye toward reproduction. The spire was carefully dismantled revealing structural details that would otherwise have gone unknown. Its unusual system provides rigidity and prevents uplifting and overturning through trusses, iron tie-downs, and a stabilizing pendant timber.”

Those looking for more information on this historic system can check out the June 2014 issue of Timber Framing: The Journal of the Timber Framers Guild, where the structure system is documented and discussed. The College Street Church Restoration Committee is currently considering whether to reproduce the original timber-frame structure or create a modern framework skeleton. The exterior of the historic steeple will be reproduced.

The E/I funding, along with other donations and fundraising efforts, has meant that the church has been able to move ahead with the restoration while at the same time continuing its ministry role in the community. And this is exactly what we hope for in our Emergency/Intervention funding program.

For more information contact our grants team at or call 202-588-6277.  Further information about grants provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation can be found here.

Diana Maxwell is the associate manager for grants at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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