Columbus Landmarks and Fort Hayes Career Center Team Up to Teach Historic Preservation

The 1863 military center’s gatehouse provides a learning laboratory for students.

Suzanne Goldsmith
Columbus Monthly
Students in the construction arts program at Fort Hayes High School remove old plywood flooring from the Fort Hayes gatehouse.

On a wintry Tuesday afternoon, a group of high school students circles up inside the long-vacant gatehouse at the entrance to Fort Hayes, the 1863 armory and military recruitment center that now houses programs of Columbus City Schools, including Fort Hayes Career Center vocational school. The teens are dressed in fluorescent vests, work boots and hard hats. Paint is peeling from the walls, and insulation hangs from a hole in the ceiling. There is no heat. 

Some of the students are preparing to ride up on a hydraulic lift to inspect the roof. “Look for any discrepancies—any damage,” restoration specialist Lindsay Jones tells them. “Is there a dip? Moisture? … Look at the roof for anything that correlates with the water damage we see inside. Is there anything that strikes you as odd?” 

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Take good notes, the group’s construction carpentry teacher, Matthew Blake, tells the students. “A lot of times you can turn those notes into reports that you can give to a client and make money.” 

“Paperwork gets you paid,” he says. 

Maynor Lucero and teacher Matthew Blake conduct a roof inspection while working on the Fort Hayes gatehouse at Fort Hayes High School.

And that’s the point of this effort: There’s work out there for construction arts graduates who know a thing or two about historic restoration. With help from Columbus Landmarks and a $50,000 grant from the Ann Sherry Foundation, this small, aged building has become a laboratory where students who are already learning new-build skills can be trained in the art of restoration. Plans call for students in electrical, HVAC and masonry classes to participate as well. 

Susan Keeny, preservation director of Columbus Landmarks, says Columbus needs more tradespeople familiar with historic restoration. The organization—founded in 1977 in response to the razing of Union Station—sponsors classes in old-home repair for homeowners and works to save historic buildings from the wrecking ball. But it can be hard to find contractors. 

“The contractors that we work with say they could take on more work if there were more people they could hire,” she says. Preservation apprenticeships are rare or nonexistent, and as skilled restoration specialists retire, knowledge is being lost. 

That knowledge is critical, says Jones, who has degrees in construction management and historic preservation and owns a Columbus-based company, Blind Eye Restoration. 

“The dimensions of lumber are different in old buildings,” she says. “The spacing of joists is different. Everything is just a little bit different.” Through this pilot program, students “are getting the insight that there is a different way,” she says. “That you don’t just have to throw these things out.” 

On this day, while some students inspect the roof, others take turns using an infrared heat gun to safely strip lead paint from original beadboard. Still others are using pry bars to tear up layers of flooring, hoping to reveal the maple that old building plans tell them is underneath. The work is slow, and more grants will be needed before this aged building can be put to any yet-to-be-determined contemporary use. 

It’s worth the effort, says Alow Manyi, 17. At first, she didn’t love the job: It was dirty, demanding work. Now she’s hooked. “It’s really amazing what you can bring to life with your hands.”  

This story is from the March 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.