Stevenson Hall: Why Windows Matter in Sitka Summer Music Festival’s Plans for this National Historic Landmark Building

Update September 2019:

The National Park Service Senior Historic Architect and the Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer came to Sitka in late July 2019, to try to work out a solution so that the Sitka Summer Music Festival’s needs for Stevenson Hall (1911, part of the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark) are met, and the project also retains the building’s historic character.

Historic preservation is a well-developed field, and there are many ways to meet all goals (for making this a modern, comfortable, efficient arts center) while preserving history.

The National Park Service and the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) are the entities charged with protecting our nation’s historic places.

The Sitka Summer Music Festival has a covenant (from a 2014 grant, expiring in October) on the property requiring plans be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. In addition, the property has Mandatory Plat Notes, also requiring work meet the Standards. Here is the letter from the SHPO after the meeting, and the response from the Festival. .

The SHPO has signed off on the Sitka Summer Music Festival’s plans except for one issue: the Festival plans include replacing all the windows. Construction plans call for Andersen A-Series new-construction replacements.

The windows of Stevenson Hall are the most important, defining feature of the building. Historic rehabilitation starts with identifying the “character-defining features” of a property, then planning work to preserve those features as much as possible.

The Festival proposed a new plan on August 25th, and started construction, gutting the interior.

This plan still calls for replacing all the windows, this time with Kolbe Heritage Traditional true-divided-lite wood window. This is also a new-construction modern window. Another problem is that Kolbe’s wood windows have the casing (trim) attached in the factory, with the widest casing they offer at 5 1/2 inches. On Stevenson Hall the window casing is much wider and is integrated into the architecture. (See photos above.)

The letter from the Festival notes that the Festival “did not ask for, nor did we receive, endorsement from [their architect] on the proposed window treatment for the project.” Here is the response from the SHPO.

Replacement is an option when the original is irreparable, which is not the case on Stevenson Hall. In case replacement is unavoidable, they should be replaced “in kind” with something made like, and that look like, the original. Windows on the other buildings on the Landmark have been restored, and professional restoration is available from multiple businesses in Seattle.

This building is a remarkable survival, one of a suite of architect-designed buildings, a rarity in Alaska. This is on top of the significance, to the nation, of difficult and important history. The other buildings are being restored to historic preservation standards, so that future generations can experience this authentic place.

Having Stevenson Hall lose its historic character and appearance would be an unfortunate legacy for the Sitka Summer Music Festival. The loss of the windows and the altered appearance would be a loss to the community, to all who have worked so hard to restore other buildings, to the Festival, to visitors, to musicians using the building, and to future generations.

It is critical that the Sitka Summer Music Festival consider the goals of the Festival. It is critical to work with professionals at the Park Service and the state, and the Festival’s architect, and the contractors and volunteers who have been working on restoring the other Landmark buildings, and campus partners, to find a solution that is compatible and respectful.

(It’s critical to understand and to weigh the practical costs and benefits as well: research shows that replacement is expensive and provides no benefits over adding a storm window (see below).)

Restoring windows makes sense. It’s the right thing to do.

Original post:

The Sitka Summer Music Festival is rehabilitating Stevenson Hall, one of the iconic buildings on the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark. It is wonderful that the Sitka Summer Music Festival has a home where it began back in the 1970s on the Sheldon Jackson College campus. The rehabilitation is a huge benefit to our community, in making this distinctive building a year-round center for the arts. The $4.2 million project includes heat and ventilation.

However, the plan includes removing all the building’s windows and putting in replacements. I’m a fan of the Festival and have background in historic preservation, and would like to share information about why this is unnecessary, costly, and detrimental to the Landmark.

Replacing windows with this type specified in the plans (Andersen A-Series) (an entire window unit that installs from the exterior) requires replacing all the trim (the old won’t fit), and the plan calls for replacing all the shingle siding too, for loss of a minimum of 85% of the historic exterior. Historic preservation professionals, from the National Park Service to the state preservation office to local preservationists, object to the Festival’s plan to replace windows. It would destroy the historical integrity of the building, which I’m sure is not what the Festival and its donors want.

From the Architectural Character and Design Guidelines in the Sheldon Jackson School Preservation Plan:

“b) Windows are as important to the building’s appearance as the exterior sheathing. The windows cover roughly half of the exterior façade. It is important that all windows contribute to the feel of the building and thus should not be altered. The original windows constitute the main character of the building.”

The crazy thing is that restoring windows achieves all the Festival’s goals, and at less cost. By using best practices in historic preservation – professionally restoring windows (by one of the companies in Seattle like Prime Sash) and adding interior storm windows – the Sitka Summer Music Festival can protect musical instruments, have comfort and energy efficiency, while retaining Stevenson Hall’s historic character, and do it at less cost.

Interior storm windows have all the benefits, at a fraction of the cost, and none of the downsides of full window replacement. They actually have better acoustic performance.

Restoration saves tens of thousands of dollars, and restored windows last indefinitely, compared to the few decades possible with replacements. With restoration any damaged wood is repaired or replaced, so all wood is sound. Maintenance is the same as for new wood.

Why would anyone want to replace windows? Perhaps it is a matter of familiarity, and extensive promotion by window replacement companies. It is probably hard to imagine a historic building that is also modern in its function but this is readily achievable. You don’t have to make a choice between history and modernization. You can have both.

This is a large, complex and costly project on a National Historic Landmark building, and none of the staff or board has background in historic preservation. This means it is critical to do the work of researching and learning about alternatives and best practices, and talking to experts.

When they purchased this property, the Sitka Summer Music Festival accepted the responsibility to preserve what makes this place worthy of national recognition, in mandatory preservation Plat Notes. Restoring windows would put the Festival right with this obligation.

Here is the letter sent by the Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer to the Festival on May 30 2019, on how the Sitka Summer Music Festival plan is presently in violation of those mandatory Plat Notes, and, with a covenant, and of their responsibility to preserve this National Historic Landmark for future generations:

Links and documents about the economics and technology of preserving historic windows can be found on the Documents page on this site.

On June 3 2019 Stevenson Hall was listed on the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation’s “10 Most Endangered” historic properties for 2019.

Girls in front of Stevenson Hall, the Small Girls Building, early 1910s. E. W. Merrill photograph, Sitka National Historical Park Collection.

Why Replacing Historic Windows on Stevenson Hall is a Really Bad Idea

People in Sitka care about authenticity and history. It is part of our identity as Sitkans, and part of our economy. Visitors come to Sitka to experience authentic culture and history. When we have a National Historic Landmark building, we do what we can to preserve what is authentic and historic about it. This place is important.

If a part is too damaged to save, and you have to replace it, you replace it “in-kind,” with something identical.

We also want to get historic buildings into reuse, so we have to make modifications for energy efficiency, accessibility, comfort, and security. We work to make sure that modifications do not destroy historic features. Wholesale replacement is avoided if possible, and even then, replacement is with something close to or identical with the original.

Replacement windows don’t come close to being appropriate, especially when the originals are still there and easily reparable.

“New-construction” windows like the Andersen A-Series requires all new trim, which is a substantial part of the architecture of Stevenson Hall. (It is also a substantial construction cost.) Everyone who sees the building with these plastic-clad replacement windows and protruding trim next to the authentic, historic buildings of the Landmark will notice it looks new, and wrong, even if they can’t put their finger on exactly what it is. That’s no good, and, it is also unnecessary.

Don’t you have to replace windows for energy efficiency and to support indoor humidity control for protecting delicate musical instruments? No. All the benefits of double-pane windows are gained by installing a modern interior storm window. And, you can get storm windows that open.

These give you all the benefits of replacing windows, and better acoustics, with none of the downsides, at a fraction of the cost.

Windows don’t insulate, and it is foolish to spend a lot of money for a tiny amount of insulation improvement: even on a regular building, you never recoup your costs in heating efficiency. The critical factor is air sealing, which is gained just as well by installing storm windows and sealing cracks.

Another important factor is that the plans include an efficient heat-pump heating system, state-of-the-art mechanical ventilation, complete air sealing, and 1 1/2 inch Styrofoam insulation lining the interior surface of all the walls.

Efficient heating, ventilation, and air sealing means that windows won’t make much of a difference in comfort, air quality, or heating costs.

Isn’t keeping windows too expensive? No. Replacing windows is too expensive – especially when you take into account their relatively short lifespan compared to traditional wood windows.

Not only are the Andersen A-Series units expensive to buy (at $2300 each) and to ship, installing them involves major construction to remove the original windows with their frames and windowsills, removing all siding and trim, adding framing to the wall, installing the new unit, then buying, fabricating and installing all new trim, because the old trim won’t fit on this different type of window. On Stevenson Hall the trim is large and complex.

All that new trim costs a lot – labor and materials for trim is a big cost item in construction. You are talking tens of thousands of dollars.

It is much cheaper – at about $1300 per large window – to fully restore historic windows and add interior storm windows. (Details below.) That doesn’t even count the cost savings from not having to make and install all new window trim. Restoration includes replacing all rotten parts with new.

The money saved by not replacing is more than adequate to fully restore the window frames and original trim.

But don’t old windows require too much maintenance? No. The existing windows are over 100 years old. They would be thoroughly restored, by stripping them down to the wood, repairing and refinishing so they are literally as good as when they were first built. (New wood windows are made from fast-growing pine, so the restored old-growth wood windows may actually be superior in durability.) This could be done by a contractor – many of the windows on the other campus buildings have been done “in house.” It’s not complicated, though it is time consuming.

A better alternative is one of the window restoration businesses in Seattle who do this efficiently and cost-effectively – at about half the cost of the purchase price of replacement Andersen windows. Plus the restored window has metal weatherstripping and is beautifully varnished on the interior.

When you add up the cost of replacements, the choice is clear, just from a cost standpoint.

Professionally restored windows are as good as new. All soft wood is replaced. They take no more maintenance than wood siding. The old-growth Douglas fir is better quality than wood available today.

Replacement windows may be “maintenance-free” but that comes at a cost: they are not made to last. The glass seals are warranted for 20 years, the rest of the window only 10. Manufacturers estimate 35 years at the most before they need replacement again. You are replacing a permanent, historic window with one with seals that will fail, and plastic and mechanisms that will break down. Who needs that?

Another problem that does not seem to have been taken into account is that when it comes time to replace a “new construction” type window, all the exterior trim has to come off in order to get it out. This kind of window (with a flange for mounting from the exterior of the building) is not designed or intended to have elaborate and continuous traditional trim, as on Stevenson Hall. (You’ll notice on buildings with Andersen-type windows, that the trim is simple, narrow, or nonexistent.)

In addition to the normal stewardship responsibility of owning a building in a National Historic Landmark, the property has Plat Notes and a covenant requiring work meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The Festival agreed to the Plat Notes when they purchased the property. The covenant is from a federal grant in 2010 for the foundation repair. The State Historic Preservation Office has determined that replacing windows does not meet the Standards, putting the Festival out of compliance with their legal obligations.

Replacement windows are inappropriate on a historic building, even if they had advantages or were cheaper. But, they don’t, and aren’t, and they cause more problems than they solve.

The Festival would be spending more money, and would gain nothing in insulation or protection of the interior over interior storm windows. They would be replacing permanent, historic windows with plastic-clad windows designed to be replaced. They would lose something genuine and historic and replacing with something new and generic that could just as well be in a subdivision. They would be in violation of their responsibility to the public and future generations to preserve this National Historic Landmark, violating their legal obligations, and creating problems for the future.

Preserving windows is the easy choice. It retains historic character, meets all the Festival’s needs, and saves money. With research, consultation and due diligence, Stevenson Hall can be a prestige project, a model of high-quality preservation, a legacy the Sitka Summer Music Festival can be proud of, a building musicians will enjoy not just for its comfort but for its authenticity and history.

Panorama above by James Poulson, 2016, below, shortly after construction in 1911 by E. W. Merrill. Collection Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Stevenson Hall is on far left (West).

Replacements Look Wrong

Replacement windows in a historic building can never look like the original, and they never look right. This will be an especially obvious contrast next to buildings that are intact. The entire new window assembly exterior, not just the sash, is molded plastic (“Fibrex,” which is 60% vinyl and 40% wood flour, and painted fiberglass (polystyrene) on the sash); the dividers are fake; and they install flush with the outside wall, so they have less depth.

The jamb (window frame) actually protrudes from the wall, so the trim will have to be reinstalled with a spacer behind it and will stick out past the shingle surface. They can’t match the craftsmanship or appearance of the originals.

Replacement Causes Additional Costs and Loss of Material

Installing these full-frame (“new construction”) replacements requires removing the old window and its frame and windowsill, adding studs (framing) in the wall for the opening and all new trim, so that once you replace windows, there is no going back.

This is a very unusual application for new-construction windows.

Installing all new trim might not be an issue on an ordinary building. On this building, it is serious loss of most of the exterior.

Making and installing new trim is expensive, with many hours of contractor labor, and would eliminate most of the remaining historic material. You have a cascade of costs and loss of material that you would not have if you just kept the original windows.

Because of the way these replacement windows are made, for installation from the outside of the building, all the trim has to be removed in order to replace each one when it fails, which I don’t think the Festival realizes.

In addition, the Festival’s plans call for taking off all the siding and trim, and adding air channel, which would make the wall thicker, further complicating any reuse of trim, and adding hours of unnecessary contractor labor and materials.

The wall assembly does not need air channel and performs well. Air sealing and insulation in the plan is by 1 1/2 inch Styrofoam insulation, on the inside surface of the walls. Plans also call for replacing all of the shingle siding, which is not necessary and means there will be almost nothing left of the original exterior.

This Building is Historically Significant

This is a National Historic Landmark for its association with Alaska Native education, and the Founders of the ANB. It includes the suppression of Indigenous language and culture, and the strength of men and women who used the tool of education to fight for civil rights. It’s important and difficult history that should not be forgotten. Standing in the place, experiencing authentic spaces missionaries and students did, connects us and helps our understanding of those times and those people, like nothing else can.

The other reason is the remarkable architecture, and the intact survival of the entire suite of distinctive buildings. It is the only formal campus quadrangle in Alaska. It would really be too bad to lose the architecture and symmetry now when it’s survived more than 100 years.

Replacing Windows is Opposed by All Historic Preservation Specialists

Unfortunately, none of the Festival board or staff has experience with historic preservation. Their architect did have training in preservation architecture (and he recommended keeping the windows), but he left the project in May. Even when he was on the project he was not acting as a historic architect on this project: the plans don’t mention what the historic features of the building are or how the plan would meet the Standards, which are the basics of a historic architecture plan.

Incorrect terminology throughout the plan and presentation, not getting the name right of the Landmark or the title of the Standards, show a lack of familiarity with historic preservation practice.

Other parts of the Festival’s plan don’t meet the Standards: the way the addition is designed and new features like a balcony and bay window. Additions are fine, but should be designed to not detract from the architecture. The two-story addition would require removal of a wall and part of a roof, in order to add on 20 feet and build a copy of that wall and roof, that would be designed to look continuous with the original building. The appropriate way to add on to a historic building is to do it so you can still tell what was there originally, which also saves costs when you don’t have to try to tie the old and new together seamlessly. The plan eliminates the classical symmetry and proportions of the north and west walls.

These changes and additions add to the incremental, and permanent loss of character and materials of the Landmark. The Alaska State Historic Preservation Office accepted those changes because they will be mostly out of sight from the front of the building.

The State Historic Preservation Office did not approve replacing the windows. The National Park Service and the local Historic Preservation Commission also object to replacing windows.

Replacing Windows Puts the Festival Out of Compliance with Mandatory Historic Preservation Plat Notes

Sitka people value history and authenticity. That is why, when Stevenson Hall was subdivided from the college property in 2010, the City facilitated the addition by the owner of mandatory preservation plat notes on the property requiring work be done to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These were added in an effort to protect the National Historic Landmark. The Festival also has a covenant on the property, from a federal grant for repairing the foundation, that requires the same thing.

The Standards are guidelines for working on historic buildings: First, you identify what it is that defines its historic character. Then you plan your work to conserve those elements as much as possible.

In January 2019 the State Historic Preservation Officer determined that replacing the windows does not meet the Secretary’s Standards. They determined that the Festival’s plans for the windows put it out of compliance with the covenant and with the plat notes on the property.

They sent a further letter on May 30 2019, with their continued objection.

The City and Borough of Sitka does not enforce plat notes (of any kind), and has no precedent or procedure for preservation plat notes, but that does not mean they are not legally binding. The Festival has stated that they will wait for the covenant to expire in October 2019 before removing the windows. That does not make them in compliance. More significantly, the Festival would be violating the intention of plat notes and covenant, which are to protect the integrity of this National Historic Landmark for the benefit of future generations.

Historic Preservation 101

The goal of historic Rehabilitation is to bring buildings into productive use – energy efficient, comfortable, accessible, safe – while saving what it is that makes it historic in the first place.

It’s not complicated, but it is different from working on non-historic buildings. It starts with analysis of what is most important to preserve, and looking carefully for alternatives that will solve problems while at the same time keep historic materials and character.

Each case will have different considerations, in weighing function, costs, and practicability against permanent loss of authenticity, character and materials. For example, a modification that meets the Standards is accessibility ramping. This is very important to a building’s function, and has little impact on its appearance or character. Another example of an acceptable solution is using architectural asphalt shingles instead of wood. “Architectural” grade asphalt shingles have the same texture as wood shingles, which means little is lost in character. (Also, on these buildings, in 1910 the architects specified either wood or asphalt shingles.) And, roofing is made to be replaced, and asphalt shingles now do not prevent a wood roof in the future.

Are the windows important to the historic character of Stevenson Hall? Yes. A Getty Foundation-funded Historic Preservation Plan from 2004 listed the original windows, which comprise nearly half the surface of the building, as a defining feature. This is often the case with historic buildings. The windows are important, and replacing them would mean losing this important architectural feature.

Replacing windows also requires replacing all window trim. Siding and trim are also listed in the Preservation Plan as defining features.

The main point is that if you have a National Historic Landmark building, you will do what you can to preserve its historical character and materials, even if it requires compromising other aspects of the building’s function or cost. But for Stevenson Hall, you don’t have to:

Adding Storm Windows Has the Same Benefits as Replacing Entire Window

The Festival’s goal with replacement windows is to protect the building’s interior acoustics, heat, and air, which they need because they house priceless musical instruments.

But in fact, you get the same benefit – and better acoustic performance – by adding interior storm windows, at a fraction of the cost. This is well documented in many studies, by states, universities and other entities. Some references and studies can be found on the Documents page on this site or at

Most manufacturers offer operable storm windows, with a part that opens. There are some of these in the Laundry Building on the Sheldon Jackson School NHL.

Even double pane windows are not good insulation. You get essentially the same energy-efficiency benefits by adding a storm window. Replacement is not recommended even in ordinary buildings: by the time you recoup your costs in energy savings, the windows have had to be replaced again.

The plans call for air sealing and an efficient heating system, and mechanical heat-recovery ventilation throughout. Every room has mechanical (as opposed to passive) ventilation. The main room has two systems – one kicks in when there are large numbers of people gathered and the humidity gets too high. This is an excellent system, and a window won’t make much of a difference in indoor air quality.

Historic Window Restoration Makes Them Literally Good as New

These windows are reparable, and in remarkably good condition. They can be repaired by the contractor: the Fine Arts Camp has been restoring windows on the neighboring buildings, using a steam box to strip the windows then making repairs and refinishing, so the windows are good for another 110 years. It is important to use lead-safe practices, which is the case for work on all buildings from before 1978. All of the windows have been easily reparable, which is remarkable when you consider their great age (109 years) and lack of maintenance, especially in the last decades of the college. The most that has been required is the replacement of the bottom rail. That is because these windows were made to last, out of high quality, old-growth wood. Restoration includes the varnish inside on the beautiful Douglas fir.

There are also many commercial services in the Seattle area who do this. A “ball park” estimate from one is approximately $1200 to $1400 per large window (2 sash). This is less than an Andersen A-series replacement costs – $2300 – for the window alone. Add shipping, and all the labor for installation and new trim (see above), for thousands of dollars in additional cost for each replacement window.

With professional restoration, windows take no more maintenance than wood siding. Yes, you have to paint them, but no more often that you paint your siding.

The windows on Allen Hall were restored in the early 2000s and are still good, nearly 20 years on. Interior storm windows help make this building extremely energy-efficient.

Paying the Price for “Maintenance Free”

Replacement windows, by contrast, are not made to last. Double pane windows on a new addition to Allen Hall, put in 20 years ago, are fogging up with failed seals. Manufacturers say no more than 35 years, with many failing long before that, on an exponential curve, and the entire unit has to go to the landfill. (The Andersen windows are guaranteed for 20 years on the glass, which is about when many seals fail, and only 10 years on the rest of the window. And, it is for replacement only, not labor.) Under ideal conditions, an industry study found that 1% fail at ten years, and 3% at 15, and so on.

The selling points of these windows are also their weakness: “no maintenance” vinyl and fiberglass deteriorates. The seals in double-pane glass fail. The original buildings and their windows were made to last, which is not the case for replacement windows.

Restoration could be done by the contractor, but is much cheaper when done by a specialist in Seattle: $1200 to $1400 per large window. Add shipping there and back in a container, and storm windows, and you are looking at a fraction of the cost of replacement.

The Andersen A-Series window units cost $2300 just for the replacement unit and shipping. Labor is going to be about that amount again, plus the cost of buying and installing new trim, which is a major part of the building’s surface, for cost of replacement at roughly $4000 to $5000 per window.

Even if you had windows restored by the general contractor, it would be a break even. If you have the windows restored professionally in Seattle, you are looking at a fraction of the price of replacing, saving tens, possible hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.

In addition, making one change to an old building often means other changes have to be made, that you didn’t anticipate. You aren’t saving money.

Unlike replacements, traditional windows are good indefinitely.

Restoration is a long term investment, saving beauty and character and saving the cost of having to replace the replacements.

Keeping Windows is the Right Choice

What is great is that making preservation a priority and restoring windows on Stevenson Hall does not call for hard choices. It is cost effective, longer lasting, better looking and has all the benefits of full replacement, at less cost to the environment. It would bring the Festival into compliance with the law, and would be a great asset for fund raising and events.

I’m sure musicians and other visitors would much rather experience an authentic space, with the actual varnished windows and wood that was there when students used the building, and not the all-new surfaces that could be anywhere in the world, especially when they can enjoy the same comfort and acoustics.

I know that the Festival has the best intentions, and that they are making decisions based on their past experience and understanding of what is best. That understanding might be adequate if it was an ordinary building. However, on this historic structure, they must research and integrate historic preservation expertise, technology and best practices, for a high quality product. They must do their due diligence, and consult with experts in the field, and listen to what they have to say. They must do their own research, do the math, and learn about how to and why preserve historic buildings.

Replacing windows would make this building an imitation of what it is, would cause unnecessary and irreversible loss of everything that makes it historic in the first place, and it will detract from the rest of the Landmark.

I’m sure the Festival contributors, whether private donors or foundations, don’t want to be associated with the loss of a historic building, especially when the expertise is readily available to do it right, at the same or less cost. Restoration is the responsible, long-term option, for the public and for the Festival. The Festival will leave a legacy it can be proud of.

A Few Other Preservation Notes:

Another place the plan can be improved is the proposal to take all the siding off and put it back on. Prying off siding and trim will cause damage that could be avoided by restoring siding and trim in place. In addition, the plans call for adding air channel, which would make the wall thicker, which would make it really tricky to reuse old trim.

The wall functions well without air channel; there is no need to take the siding off. The Festival can weigh the benefits against the costs of removal, taking into consideration that the plans include an efficient heating system, and air sealing and insulation on the interior of the wall, with 1 1/2 inch “Styrofoam” board lining all the walls.

The interior of Stevenson Hall has been extensively remodeled, with little to be seen that’s original. However, there is a lot of original varnished, clear Douglas fir trim, buried under layers of paint and paneling. This should be salvaged and reused, but plans call for instead putting in all new white-painted beadboard wainscoting and trim is specified. (Update: original trim is being ripped out and thrown away 9/2/19.)

Even if you don’t save any original trim, why not take the original interior trim as an inspiration? Originally these buildings had plain walls and wide varnished baseboard and window trim. This could be less expensive than all that beadboard, and varnished wood would probably be more attractive.

When these buildings were made, bead board was for utilitarian areas like kitchens, and it was finished in a dark varnish. The original wainscoting in the student dining room seems to have been linoleum.

The entry of North Pacific Hall. E. W. Merrill photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park, SITK_2572.
Sheldon Jackson School student dining room, which was in the west end of North Pacific Hall. E. W. Merrill photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park, SITK_25598.

Below is information shared with the Festival earlier in 2019 (similar information was shared in March 2018):

Here are a few aspects of historic preservation on the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark, that I’ve gathered over the years. The main point is that the goal of historic preservation is to get buildings into productive use, while saving what it is that makes it historic. There is a large body of research and practical information that makes it straightforward to modernize a building while retaining its historic integrity. And in this case, it will save substantial costs.

  • Replacing wood windows is not cost effective – every study concludes that you never pay for replacing windows with energy savings. That is because windows don’t insulate. You get, for all intents and purposes, the same energy savings (and better sound proofing) by repairing them and adding interior storm windows (such as Indow or Allied), at a fraction of the cost. Links to studies can be found at
  • Replacement windows are not made to last: seals fail, plastic deteriorates, and you end up with a 6-figure bill to replace them all again. (The exterior of the windows specified (Andersen A-Series) are Fibrex, which is 60% vinyl and 40% sawdust filler, with painted fiberglass (polystyrene) on flat parts.)
  • By contrast, the existing windows are over 100 years old. They were made with high-quality old-growth wood, and when repaired, can be expected to last literally another 100 years. In the upgrade of the other buildings on the Landmark we have learned how to restore windows quickly and well, and we would be glad to share that information. Allen Hall, which has all its original windows and has interior storm windows, is extremely energy-efficient. 
  • Replacement windows require tearing out the window jambs, sills and trim. They have their own, plastic windowsills. They can’t match the craftsmanship or the aesthetics, or the dimensions of the original windows. Replacing these windows will leave this building sticking out like a sore thumb, compared to the other buildings.
  • The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties are common-sense guidelines for working on historic places, so we save those features and the overall sense of the place that make it historic in the first place. The “character-defining features” on Stevenson Hall have been identified in the Getty Foundation-funded Campus Preservation Plan; the windows are a defining feature.
  • Because a goal is to preserve the distinctive architecture, when you add on to a historic building you make it clear what is original and what is new. An example is the addition to Allen Hall, built to accommodate restrooms and an elevator. A one-story addition that has a line between old and new would give you performance space, and save the loss and the the incredible expense of rebuilding the roof and entire wall with its complex siding, and trying to mate the new and old foundation, walls and roof. (The facade is not what it looks like; the pieces are milled and interlocked and layered, to shed water.) Most importantly, people will be able to see the original architecture, which was by one of the most prominent firms in the United States at the time. The bay window, deck, and back porch are also inappropriate additions for a historic building, since they are not needed to accommodate the new function, and they detract from the architecture. (See Standards for Rehabilitation 9 and 10.)
  • This property has mandatory plat notes, added when it was sold in 2010, that require doing work to the Standards. In addition, there is a property covenant requiring using the Standards, part of the federal grant for foundation repair.

Legal obligations, or having to pay back a grant, shouldn’t be the only reason to save the distinctive architecture, craftsmanship, feel and fabric of this building. The technology is available to make the building comfortable and efficient, and retain important historical features, too, at substantially less cost than the current plan. Restoring the windows will save money, result in a higher quality product, comply with legal obligations, and leave a lasting legacy.
I am willing to provide any other information, and answer questions, provide resources or just chat about methodology and options. Incorporating best practices for working on historic buildings will save hundreds of thousands of dollars, and pay off in a higher quality product – that retains its historic integrity at the same time providing an efficient and comfortable building – that will reflect well on the Festival forever. 


6 thoughts on “Stevenson Hall: Why Windows Matter in Sitka Summer Music Festival’s Plans for this National Historic Landmark Building

  1. Well done Rebecca. I support your efforts to preserve Stevenson as it should be! Thanks for all your efforts!


    1. Hi sorry I missed this earlier! Over the past several years, we’ve restored windows mainly with volunteers, doing the research and holding workshops.

      As far as professional window restoration, there are businesses that do that in Seattle, so what I would do is to ship windows south for restoration. It is much faster, better, and cheaper, because they are so much more efficient than a general contractor would be.


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