3.5 Best Practice: Caring for the Site

What We’re Hearing

Historic sites require a specialized system of care that draws on shared resources and individual strengths. The complexities of such create issues in building and site maintenance, as partners find it difficult to translate roles and responsibilities from the agreement into the realities of day-to-day operations.

Maintenance priorities are a point of contention among owners and operators, as owners take an asset management approach that contrasts with the preservation focused lens of many operators.

Publicly owned sites are often a low priority on the list of overextended departments, which lack heritage appropriate maintenance skills. Non-profit operators are faced with unrealistic maintenance and capital responsibilities that they do not have the resources to support, putting funds into assets that do not belong to them.

Best Practices

It is important for all partners to understand roles as tenant(s) and landlord and how that relationship plays into the way that the site is cared for. Formalize these roles in writing in the agreement. Heritage sites are distinct from other types of public and cultural facilities and require special consideration in their maintenance and upkeep. Generally, minor maintenance is best addressed by the operator who has a regular presence at the site, while major maintenance and capital upkeep are the responsibilities of the owner.

Best Practices for Owners

  • Caring for the site cannot be “handed off” to an operator or third party. It is a shared endeavor, and you must offer support. Recognize the limited capacity of non-profit organizations in addressing costly, resource dependent upkeep, and work together to come up with a balanced, realistic plan for maintaining the site so that it lasts into the future for public use.
  • Come up with another plan: if the department assigned to supporting maintenance cannot address their needs, can a more realistic plan for care be developed?
  • Understand heritage buildings as distinct from other types of facilities under your care – they require an alternative approach to asset management.
  • Ensure those responsible for performing maintenance are trained in appropriate care procedures for heritage features. This may mean sub-contracting aspects of maintenance work to specialists - listen to the recommendations of the operators holding expertise.
  • Work with the operator to address maintenance needs, respond to their requests, and be considerate of their scheduling.
  • Best Practices for Operators

  • Be realistic about the responsibilities you take on. Realize when you are in “over your head” and are unequipped to perform maintenance if you do not have the expertise or capacity to do so. Have open and honest conversations with your partners to identify solutions.
  • Recognize that public works departments are often overstretched in their maintenance duties. If this becomes an issue that detracts from site growth and visitor experience, an alternate arrangement should be explored.
  • Work with the owner to identify appropriate contractors for maintenance of heritage features or suggest resources and opportunities for the owner’s staff to learn about heritage maintenance.
  • Try This – Owners, Operators, and Third Parties

    Funding for capital upgrades is a major source of conflict at shared stewardship sites. Despite the best intentions, owners, operators and third parties find themselves without the financial resources to care for depreciating heritage buildings with costly needs. When the demand for funds is straining your partnership, it may be worth exploring alternative funding strategies. For example, establish a capital fund that each party contributes to annually, or apply together on infrastructure grant opportunities available to governments. A coordinated effort can reap rewards.