Old-fashioned roof repair; Carpentry students connect with crafts of bygone era at OSV.
STURBRIDGE - Ben Brigham is no stranger to roofing.
Give him a bundle of shingles, a hammer on a tool belt and a pocket full of nails, and he's ready to pitch in and help.
Of course, at the turn of the 19th century, the shingles were cedar, not asphalt, and the shingling hatchet was the tool of choice.
Still, a roof is a roof, and Mr. Brigham and eight classmates in Tantasqua Regional High School's 11th-grade carpentry class eased into reshingling the roof of the Cooper Shop at Old Sturbridge Village by stripping off the old shingles.
Five students worked from staging under the direction of Stephen Mucha, Tantasqua carpentry instructor, and Brad King, director of facilities and grounds at Old Sturbridge Village, while four others looked on from the ground.
Tom Kelleher, curator of historic trades, mills and mechanical arts at OSV, held a shingling hatchet a farmer or a cooper might have used in the early 1800s as he watched the student progress in prepping the roof for new shingles.
"They were quite adept with this," he said, turning it in his hand, demonstrating how quickly a 19th-century farmer skilled in using the tool could go from hatchet face to hammer face.
"These students haven't used one of these before, and so it will take them a little longer," the curator said. "They are using two tools, a hammer and a utility knife, and that takes time."
Mr. King, who has had oversight of facilities and grounds at OSV for three decades, said during his tenure he's replaced some roofs more than once, and quipped he doesn't expect to be around for a third time.
In the interest of cost savings and efficiency, he said the red cedar shingles maintain the historical appearance of the Cooper Shop, while contemporary materials beneath those shingles should increase the lifespan of the roof to 30 years.
Jesse Shannon, among the five student carpenters laying the first course of shingles, described the process as "slow going."
"Ripping off the old shingles was the easiest part. The placing and nailing of the shingles has to be accurate, and that takes a little more time," she said.
At ease working off the ground on staging, Ms. Shannon said this was her first experience wearing a safety harness tethered to a rope.
Mr. Mucha said that, without strict compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, the students would not be up on the roof.
"The kids did a great job stripping off the old roof. Let's hope they do as good a job in putting on the new one," the instructor said.
By way of preparing for the exercise, Mr. Mucha said students went through OSHA training on the proper use of ladders, harnesses, working from staging, as well as wearing safety glasses and hard hats at all times they are on the site.
"When any of the Tantasqua students are working at a job site, our first priority is always safety. If I can't be certain of their safety when they're up on the roof, then I don't want them up there," he said.
Mr. Mucha said several of the students had some roofing experience with asphalt shingles, but this was the first time they had worked with cedar.
"To be completely honest with you, I've never done a cedar roof myself, so this is a learning experience for me as well," he said.
Mr. Kelleher said that when the roof is complete, it should look much like the shingle roof of the Small House.
Built in 1840 in Waldoboro, Maine, the curator said, "This was James Nash's shop. He was a farmer, as many coopers were at the time, and did most of his barrel-making during the winter months."
"The building was moved here in the late 1960s and it was in pretty sorry shape when we got it," he said, adding that the roof and siding had both been previously replaced.
Mr. King said he has oversight at OSV for 125 buildings on 371 acres.
"With a campus of this size there is always a deferred maintenance list, and right now that list has a little more than $1 million in deferred projects.
"We have 58 wood-shingled roofs and our collaboration with Tantasqua's vocational students came about because right now we were able to secure some grants to replace some of those roofs," he said.
Mr. King said the Cooper Shop was first up and Mr. Mucha was very obliging in assembling a crew from his carpentry class.
"Roofing costs right now are averaging between $800 and $900 a square - which is100 square feet of roofing - and if we were to bring in an outside contractor to do the work, it would probably have cost around $6,000," he said.
"Being an educational institution, the village is happy to share this hands-on educational experience with the crew from Tantasqua. Students get a chance to recreate a historical roofing system and at the same time, they learn something about the trade, the tools that would have been used as well as the history of this particular building," the facilities director said.
Mr. Mucha said the project should be complete by mid-November.
"Once they start laying the new shingles down, and become more comfortable with that process, the pace will pick up," he said.
While work on the roof continues, the shop adjacent to the Freeman Farm will be closed to the public, according to Kate Brandt, marketing and communications coordinator.
CUTLINE: (1) Jesse Shannon and Nathan Piazzo, carpentry students from Tantasqua Regional High School, attach cedar shingles on the roof of the Cooper Shop at Old Sturbridge Village. (2) Tantasqua carpentry students, from left, Nathan Piazzo, Ben Brigham, Jessie Shannon, Evan Lane, Joe Bachand, Jonathon Collazo, Josh Boynton, Maleek Wedderburn and Brian Clark in front of the Cooper Shop. (3) The Cooper Shop at Old Sturbridge Village that is being re-shingled by carpentry students from Tantasqua Regional High School.
PHOTOG: JOHN FERRARONE Photos