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GSA Announces New Preservation Program

GSA #9580

May 17, 1999
Contact: Viki Reath (202) 501-1499


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) new office modernization program maintains high historic-preservation standards without spending additional tax dollars, as it renovates federal courthouses, custom houses, border stations and other old buildings nationally.

The strategy, which will help put more U.S. architectural treasures to 21st century use, relies on upgrading existing building elements, where possible, rather than on expensive, total makeovers -- and supplements federal tax dollars with private funds, said Robert A. Peck, Public Buildings Service commissioner.

"The great modernist architect, Mies van der Rohe, used to say that in designing new buildings, 'less is more,'" said Peck, who oversees GSA's 1,800 buildings, the largest U.S. real estate portfolio. "We think that often holds for preserving historic buildings, too."

Under the new approach, GSA will not try to repair every cosmetic blemish and camouflage every new system. Instead, historic buildings will get more selective renovations. Artfully exposed duct work and other systems allow tenants to enjoy high ceilings and other original features that might otherwise be hidden from view. GSA also is developing creative approaches to code requirements to preserve ornamental stairways and elegant lobbies. Historic buildings account for 25 percent -- more than eight Pentagons -- of GSA's total space,

The full program is outlined in a 60-page report "Held in Public Trust: PBS Strategy for Using Historic Buildings," released today to cap off celebration of National Historic Preservation Week 1999, which ended May 15.

It draws on GSA's experience over the past quarter century, said Rolando Rivas-Camp, architect and director of the year-old PBS Center of Expertise on Historic Buildings and the Arts.

"The report reflects the second wave of GSA's preservation philosophy," said Rivas-Camp, whose staff researched and wrote it. "Today we ask how best to reuse old buildings, not whether to save or demolish them."

As it reexamines the agency's responsibilities to integrate historic preservation into GSA's business approach to providing desirable federal workspace, the report cites numerous success stories. For example, GSA has been a leader in leasing important, underused buildings to private groups, as authorized under amendments to the 1966 Historic Preservation Act. Examples cited in the report are the 1842 General Post Office in Washington, D.C., and the 1861 Custom House in Galveston, Tex.

Through such leases with private tenants, GSA supplements U.S. tax dollars with private funds for restoration and routine maintenance, while retaining ownership and ensuring continued public access.

The full report, which describes best preservation practices, internationally as well as at GSA and other Federal agencies, will be posted on the GSA Homepage, www.gsa.gov/pbs/pn, by June 7.

Copies of the report and a synopsis are available now from:

Caroline Alderson
GSA Historic Building Program Manager
Historic Buildings and the Arts Center of Expertise (PNH)
1800 F Street, NW, Suite 2308
Washington, DC 20405
fax: 202-501-2742
email: caroline.alderson@gsa.gov.