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Funds for preservation fall $99,000: Decline in public giving hampers historic restoration efforts throughout state

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Public dollars distributed for the preservation of historic Indiana buildings have declined in the past few years, which has hampered restoration and upkeep of the state’s architectural treasures.

Money awarded through the Historic Preservation Fund in Indiana has declined from $603,000 in 2010 to $504,000 this year, down 16 percent.

Such funding constraints can have a significant impact on restoration efforts.

For example, North Christian Church in Columbus in 2007 was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program.

Leaks in the building’s concealed guttering had begun to deteriorate the roof.

Columbus architect Louis Joyner, who helped the church secure the grant, said that without those funds, the original slate roof might have had to be replaced with asphalt shingles.

Steven Kennedy, assistant director of administration, financial incentives and planning at the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, said Congress has kept funding for the Historic Preservation Fund relatively stable.

In the past few years, however, the agency has used some federal funds to help defray state budget cuts.

“We can’t cut staff,” he said, “because we (would) lose programs.” Fewer programs would mean fewer federal dollars.

So while the federal funds have remained relatively stable, the share that has been awarded for preservation has declined from 76 percent in 2008 to about 55 percent this year.

The Historic Preservation Fund is the main revenue stream to restore and maintain historic buildings in Indiana, Kennedy said.

Unlike some other states, Indiana does not have separate state funds to address crumbling architectural marvels.

The lack of available funds concerns Joyner, who frequently performs renovation work.

“We get into some buildings where some scary stuff is happening,” he said.

Thankfully, he said, the city’s six National Historic Landmarks are owned by responsible institutions.

“Most people understand they have to take care of their buildings — or they just get away from them,” he said.

And, Joyner said, “A lot of these buildings were very well done.”

Despite the buildings’ occasional complexity, the architects remained focused on structural integrity.

Nonetheless, Joyner said, unlike cars, cabinets or engines, you don’t get to construct a building several times until it works.

“You can’t expect perfection of something as complex as a building,” he said.

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