A few years ago, we announced a new PA SHPO program, the Historic Property Inspection Program (HPIP).  We’ve talked about what HPIP is and shared our first site visit under this new program.

Site visits are the most important way in which we achieve the program’s goals. In today’s post, I’ll explain how the PA SHPO prepares for a site visit, what organizations can expect during a PA SHPO site visit, and what happens after the visit.

Three people stand on sidewalk looking at theater marquee and sign.

PA SHPO met with the Hiway Theatre in Jenkintown, Montgomery County during an HPIP site visit on November 28, 2023.

A Quick Recap

The HPIP serves as a mechanism to foster communication with managers of properties under a PHMC covenant.  Preservation covenants are formal agreements that require the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to approve physical changes to a property to ensure that its historic character is retained during construction projects.

PHMC holds over 350 active preservation covenants or agreements on historic properties throughout the commonwealth.  Most of these agreements are executed as part of the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program (as many of our covenant properties are past and current construction and planning grant recipients), although some agreements are assigned as part of National Park Service grant programs or consultation through the Environmental Review process. ​​

The HPIP has these objectives:

  • systematically monitoring covenants,
  • providing an architectural assessment,
  • updating National Register documentation (if needed),
  • increasing access to PA-SHPO staff, and
  • providing technical assistance, guidance, and recommendations related to current and future preservation-related needs and stewardship of the property.

Through the HPIP, we seek to strengthen the partnership between property owners, site staff, and the PA SHPO by providing our recommendations, technical assistance, resources, support, and encouragement for the organization’s on-going stewardship of the site.

I’d like to make a quick note here about the name of this program. Although the word “Inspection” may sound intimidating, we don’t want property owners or site staff to feel nervous about an upcoming site visit or uncomfortable talking with us.

Property owners with a PHMC covenant do have the responsibility to maintain properties under their stewardship and ensure that any work undertaken is done so in an appropriate manner.  Through the HPIP, we want to help property owners and site staff do just that.

Man looking at large pagoda with many tiled roofs, stone foundation, and wood railing.

Visiting the Reading Pagoda on January 11, 2024.

What happens before the site visit?

We will start with an email to site staff and/or the property owner to introduce ourselves and confirm there is an active covenant attached to the property. In addition, we will send the property owner and site staff a brief questionnaire with a few preservation-related questions.

We ask them to describe any needs or proposed projects and tell us if they are part of on-going maintenance or fall into one the three treatment types: rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction? If so, will the proposed project follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (Standards)?

We also ask if the proposed work will result in changes that would alter the character defining features of the building, the property, or its overall setting, and if the work will maintain the different aspects of the building’s/property’s integrity?

Although these questions may seem a bit daunting, and the property owner or site staff may not be able to answer all of them, the information they can provide will serve as a baseline for what we – or they – may want to talk about during our site visit. The answers also help us to better structure guidance to help the organization plan and undertake future work in a manner in keeping with the Standards.

Two story stone house with deep front porch.

Awbury Arboretum’s Francis Cope House, March 20, 2024.

What happens at a site visit?

Much of the PA SHPO’s time on site will be spent touring the property, discussing the building’s exterior and interior characteristics with you, and walking the grounds. The site visit will allow the property owner and site staff the opportunity to get to know us better and strengthen our preservation partnership.

Establishing a personal connection with our staff provides for a richer experience and lets property owners and site staff put a face with a name. While on this tour, we will have plenty of time to talk about your organization’s preservation goals.

Additional topics of conversation while on tour of the property may include:

  • The need to develop or revise a cyclical maintenance plan.
  • What is the organization’s method or role in community engagement?
  • What is the history (a brief or lengthy story depending on the site) of your site?
  • Where does the organization see the site in the next ten or so years (or the general future if not bound to specific years)?
  • Are any of the activities discussed good candidates for future Keystone Grants?
Four people stand in area of dirt and stone looking at a one story building.

Touring the Awbury Arboretum grounds on March 20, 2024.

What happens after a site visit?

After the site visit, property owners and site staff should expect to hear from us via email within a day or so. Our email will provide an opportunity to address any follow-up concerns or questions.

The PA SHPO will also prepare an inspection report that includes a summary of conditions that were observed and an outline of current maintenance needs, as well as recommendations for undertaking future maintenance and preservation.

Property owners and site staff will receive our report via email and it will also be attached to the covenant agreement record in PA-SHARE, which both property owners and site staff can access as a project contact. We also update the property’s resource record in PA-SHARE to include additional historic background information and updated photographs.

We’re always happy to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss our report and are always available to provide on-going guidance and technical assistance.

If you manage or own a historic property with a PHMC covenant and have questions about your covenant or the HPIP, would like to request a site visit, or want to discuss a future project, please get in touch!