Lead Paint, Asbestos, and other excuses

September 14, 2010 Chicago Buildings, Technology Comments (5) 1208

There was an article the other day about the demolition of the Clow Stephens House, an 1870 farmhouse in Plainfield Park. Among the comments from the Park District that owns it was: “The windows have lead in them and some of the flooring and shingles have asbestos.”

People who cannot fathom how an historic building might be reused and rehabilitated often conclude it must be demolished. Sometimes it is simply a failure of vision. Sometimes decision-makers have no experience with historic buildings: sort of like the contractors who offer to replace your windows because they have never fixed one and don’t know how. Sometimes it involves bean counters who only know how to finance something new (developers are usually better at historic buildings than bankers, BTW.)

But once they decide on demolition, they start loading up on excuses. The most popular excuses seem like “trump cards” because they invoke scary and unknown risks to health and safety, like lead paint and asbestos. The demolishers brandish these excuses like revelatory weapons never before seen by innocent little preservationists.

WRONG. One of the first things you find on the National Trust website is a guide to the new lead paint regulations that just went into effect. Most preservationists – contractors, developers, architects and advocates – know quite a lot about lead paint. We have been educating our students about lead-safe practices since we started our program in the 1990s. Continue Reading

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