photo by: Nora Edinger
WHEELING — There’s more flaking, sagging and chipping plaster in Wheeling than Sarel Venter has time to fix. The local abundance of both it and stucco is why the South African-born contractor moved his Adventures in Elegance restoration business here eight years ago. It’s also why he’s making a late-career pivot to education.
“They are special animals,” Venter said of Wheeling’s historic buildings and the restoration needs that the city (and nation) will face in coming years. He knows there aren’t anywhere near enough work boots on the ground to meet the demand.
But, beginning this fall, Venter will begin to transfer skills he honed in South Africa’s plaster-rich culture to a new generation through a series of classes and micro-modules offered through West Virginia Northern Community College. First up is an 11-session series aimed at homeowners, while later classes are designed for professionals who’d like to add specific restoration credentials to their resumes
The homeowner-focused classes, which will launch in late September and October, are geared toward area residents who love an old building but don’t know how to manage it, according to Phil Klein, vice president of economic and workforce development at WVNCC.
Klein said the community education series will include classroom instruction on repairing and maintaining plaster, information about historic preservation tax credits and some apprenticeship-style training. “We’re looking at finding some locations so they can get hands-on with live work,” Klein said.
Hands-on is really the only way to learn how to work with various plaster blemishes and cracks, Venter said. This is particularly true when there are judgment calls to be made, he noted. “Some cracks are superficial. Some are structural.”
WVNCC is also gearing up to offer intensive, one- or two-week micro-modules beginning in the spring semester, Klein added of the college’s unfolding restoration program. Those sessions are intended for professionals who need specific restoration skills — such as those involving plaster, windows or heating and cooling systems — for a specific job contract or to broaden their credentials.
Venter considers such training to be a regional complement to a two-year program in building preservation and restoration offered at Belmont College since 1989. He envisions such situations as a drywall crew in another state or even nation coming in for a short-term …….