Alumni Corner: D.J Sevigny
Today we would like to highlight one of our older alumni, who saw the CPC at the very beginning and helped to build it into what it is today, D.J Sevigny! We here at the CPC reached out to D.J with a couple of questions about his experience here at the very beginning!
What projects did you work on with CPC?
The CPC came along during the 2011-12 academic year while I was pursuing an MS in Historic Preservation. My classmates
and I completed a number of projects in Rhode Island in the years before the CPC, but the first one we contributed to under
the CPC was the Walley School reuse study in September 2011. The project was for a graduate architecture studio, but Arnold was the instructor for the Historic Rehabilitation Workshop, so we popped in for a day to give an existing conditions assessment of the Walley School to assist the studio spearheading the project. Since the community partner was the Town of Bristol, it was exciting to have our findings used throughout the class for the benefit of the Town.
That same semester, Arnold separated our class in half and gave each group a semester-long project to complete. Half of the class worked on a beautiful but dilapidated property at 22 Whitmarsh Street in Providence. The Providence Revolving Fund was planning to rehabilitate into apartments and sought our recommendations on making this plan feasible. I worked with the other half of the class on the Calendar Building at the former National India Rubber Company in Bristol. The owner of the building, Mosaico Corporation, asked us to develop a reuse strategy for the building, which laid vacant for decades. It was a beautiful open space with exposed rubble stone and brick walls capped with a timber trussed roof and prominent hipped monitor, allowing a great deal of light to flood the interior. Decades of deferred maintenance allowed water to penetrate the roof, causing a multitude of structural issues. Still, it was my first introduction to industrial architecture and a fascinating opportunity to research rubber production techniques from the late 19th century. It was also exciting to research how the building and associated complex contributed to the development of Bristol.
In the Spring of 2012, my graduate Preservation Planning class/lab worked with the City of Providence to develop a Main Street program feasibility study along Broad Street in the Washington Park neighborhood. It was a huge and complex project. Our class's coordination skills were put to the final test before graduation, but we were able to successfully produce a comprehensive assessment to benefit the City.
How long were you working with the CPC?
My last year as a student was the first year of the CPC, so I only had the opportunity to do CPC work for the 2011-12 academic year.
What was it like working with Arnold in the early years of the CPC?
My classmates and I were in a unique situation when the CPC began. Before the CPC, Arnold was a professor in the Historic Preservation Program who taught many of my classes since the start of my Junior year in the fall of 2009. His focus was on Preservation Planning, Professional Practice, Preservation Economics, and a number of other sub-disciplines. Even then, his classes were driven by the needs of the community. During our Principles of Preservation Planning class in the fall of 2009, Arnold had us survey the homes along Hope Street from Poppasquash Road up to Chestnut Street to help the Town of Bristol fulfill one of their goals in their Comprehensive Plan. During Professional Practice class the following spring, each of us personally interviewed people who spearheaded major preservation projects across the region. Even in the Preservation Economics class in the spring of 2011, we were each given real properties in Bristol to develop cost estimates for theoretical rehabilitation projects.
I also had the opportunity to work with Arnold on an extracurricular level as President of the Historic Preservation Society (HPS). The club was dormant for a few years before, so there was a lot of work to be done. Arnold became the new faculty advisor, and our Vice President, Duane Houghton, also had a keen interest in restarting the HPS. Right away, the three of us developed a plan to increase interest in the club without needing to raise or spend funds. Bristol has an incredible amount of house museums, and all of them needed work to be done in one way or another. I figured we could help them out with volunteer hours from HPS members. In exchange, HPS members had the opportunity to see the inner workings of the museum and access areas that were typically closed to the public.
The plan worked beautifully. In a matter of months, the HPS was one of the most active clubs at RWU. Volunteer days at Mount Hope Farm, Linden Place, Coggeshall Farm, and others formed the backbone of this club, which ultimately allowed us to gather more funding to go on more field trips across New England the following semester. The project at Linden Place is especially notable - the museum had been wanting to establish the Bristol Art Museum in the barn behind the mansion for many years, but the barn was filled with various items acquired over the decades. They did not have the funding available to hire someone qualified to distinguish artifacts worth retaining from things that could be thrown out, so I offered to have the HPS come in and clear out the barn if they can rent a dumpster. They agreed, and about ten members from the HPS spent a Saturday in October 2010 to clean out the barn. We were able to save components of the original roof balustrade, hexagonal floor tiles from an old bathroom, pieces of etched glass used in the original lantern over the front gate entryway, and numerous other pieces worthy of retention.
In the Spring of 2011, I worked with AIAS to make the Beaux Arts Ball a fundraiser at Linden Place to help restore the intricate fanlight above the mansion's main entrance. The Beaux Arts Ball was previously held in a mansion in Newport, so it felt gratifying to change the venue to benefit a local house museum. All of this work culminated in the HPS receiving a Community Service & Engagement Award from Student Programs & Leadership. It was incredibly humbling to receive this award on behalf of the HPS, and I couldn’t have done it without Arnold.
By this time, we heard of Arnold’s new role as Director of the newly-formed CPC. I still don’t know if this is the case, but it’s very possible the idea to have students help local organizations through the HPS was a prototype to the Community Partnerships Center. Either way, my classmates and I were more than ready to help Arnold succeed with the CPC because we already accomplished so much with the HPS and various classes he instructed the years before.
What was the CPC like in the early years?
The CPS was a brand new initiative when I worked on these projects, so there was a lot
of responsibility to make sure we succeeded in fulfilling the goals of the program. Since
we didn’t experience something like this before, there was a good amount of pressure to meet expectations set by not only the professor teaching the class but also Arnold and individual community partners. Despite this, it felt great to set the standard for the CPC!
What is your favorite thing/memory about the early CPC?
The excitement of starting something new that had the potential to blur the lines between academic exercises and real-world experience. It was only Arnold at the time, and he made every inch of his office in the SAAHP usable to help him keep the CPC running! I’ll never forget the wall of post-it notes he had on the office wall as a way to keep all of the pieces organized. There was always something buzzing at the CPC, whether it was a new project idea, a final stakeholder presentation, or an impromptu photoshoot during a site visit to use for promotional material.
What was your favorite project that you worked on?
Both “official” projects I worked on were my favorite for different reasons. The Calendar Building project was great because it introduced me to industrial architecture first-hand. My father’s side of the family worked in a number of mills in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, so it was incredible to see how these massive buildings could be rehabilitated. The Washington Park Main Street Program study was equally notable because our class went through great lengths to get an understanding of that neighborhood to provide a useful report to the City of Providence. All of the small projects we accomplished throughout the semester came together at the end, and it was amazing to see the amount of work we accomplished during the final presentation to the City.
What are you doing now?
I am the Architectural Historian at Fort Bliss, Texas. I moved out to El Paso four and a half years ago for a civilian contractor support position for the Historic Architecture Program. I ensure the 400+ historic buildings, structures, and landscapes on the installation are maintained in accordance with Federal preservation regulations. In addition, I conduct research on these buildings to better understand them during the planning process of new projects.
In addition, I’ve been serving on the Historic Landmark Commission for the City of El Paso for the past three years - two of which serving as Chair. I volunteer alongside eight other commissioners to review various projects that affect nine local historic districts in El Paso.
Do you feel like the CPC has made an impact on your life?
Yes, without a doubt. Even with my relatively brief experience with the CPC, it gave me the tools to become an effective preservationist after graduation. Specifically, the two projects I worked on continue to have a major impact on my life today. The research I completed on the Calendar Building helped me better understand timber frame industrial architecture while working as the Curator at Slater Mill Historic Site soon after graduation. Even today, the repair methods we proposed on the Calendar Building are the same solutions I'm proposing for timber-framed warehouses at Fort Bliss that were constructed in 1921 to assist the Army in patrolling the border during the Mexican Revolution.
Would you recommend taking a CPC class, or working on a CPC project to students?
I always wanted to help the CPC after graduation, but unfortunately haven’t had the chance to make it happen. Living in El Paso really limits possibilities, but I am always looking for ways to stay involved. One thing I am excited about is to help local colleges and universities develop a CPC-type program with Fort Bliss. It’s in the preliminary stages at this point, but it will bring the spirit of the CPC out here to the Southwest!
Thank you for sharing all of this with us D.J and for giving us a glimpse into how the CPC used to operate! We wish you the best of luck on any and all future endeavors
Author: Emma Perry