Belmont College: Learning by Doing

Thinking about working in historic preservation, traditional building, or the trades? All of the above? Consider the award-winning Building Preservation & Restoration (BPR) program at Belmont College, in St. Clairsville, Ohio. The curriculum combines theoretical knowledge, hands-on skills training, and a passion for craft. The technical side of preservation is presented along with traditional trades (working with glass, wood, windows, plaster, and so on).

The Building Preservation / Restoration program

Program Director Dave Mertz, who designed and has led Belmont College’s Building Preservation / Restoration (BPR) degree program since its inception in 1989, is a past two-term president of NCPE and served four years as President Emeritus. Mertz’s advocacy of and success in preservation trades-based education was the impetus for the organization’s inclusion of associate degree programs in preservation education in its membership. He was honored with the James Askins Lifetime Achievement Award (in 2014) by the Preservation Trades Network, on behalf of the National Park Service, for his role in developing and advocating for traditional trades education in America.

Dave Mertz was awarded the James Marston Fitch Award by the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) in 2017. His pioneering efforts in Preservation Trades education at Belmont College were cited as the reason he was selected for the award.

A graduate of Kansas State University with a master’s degree in architecture and a certificate in regional and community planning, Mertz lectures frequently on technical aspects of historic preservation and community revitalization, has served as Chair of the National Council for Preservation Education and as vice-president of both Heritage Ohio and the Ohio Preservation Alliances. He has also served on the advisory board of the Preservation Leadership Institute of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the editorial board of Preservation Forum, a scholarly journal.

Hands-on learning at Belmont College.

Thanks to Dave Mertz,  Belmont College’s Building Preservation / Restoration program is viewed as a model in the nation, attracting students from beyond the College’s three-county service area.  Throughout the program’s 33-year history, students of all ages have earned their BPR degree. Many incoming, nontraditional students previously have earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree in historic preservation or another field of study. Dave Mertz has recently retired. The program he created continues to thrive.

Quite a few of the Belmont College BPR (Building Preservation / Restoration) graduates are doing great work in the field:

Dan Walker’s company is called The Western Reserve Preservation Company (, headquartered in Medina, Ohio. Walker was stationed in Oklahoma when he retired from the military to move back to Ohio to help care for his mother. He used his GI benefits to attend Belmont College and learn the historic-preservation contracting business. He hoped to start his own business, affording him the flexibility to help his parents and at same time flexibility to spend time with his own young family.   

Dan Walker, founder of the Western Reserve Preservation Company.

For his internship, Walker spent a summer working for Joe Tokarsky, another BPR graduate, at Hale Farm and Village in Bath, Ohio. Tokarsky was Director of Preservation at the time.  While at Belmont, Walker also visited the IPTW [International Preservation Trades Network], in Frederick, Maryland. There he met someone who ran a restoration company near Cincinnati. When Walker graduated, he went to work with that company on a project for the Ohio Historical Connection in northeast Ohio—near Walker’s home. Then COVID-19 came along and he was laid off. He thus started his own company a bit earlier than he’d planned. He began slowly, working on projects in his neighborhood, growing to the point where he hired carpenters. Eventually Joe Tokarsky left Hale Farm to join Walker. Then Walker hired Dina Chatelain, another BPR grad, and his company continues to grow.  

Projects of The Western Reserve Preservation Company

About 20 Belmont College alumni have worked for the National Park Service training center over the years. The BPR program has a long-term relationship with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center [HPTC)] in Frederick, Maryland, where a recent hire is Belmont valedictorian Houston Adkins. Others alumni on staff there are Eric Hutchinson, Tyler Yoder, and Saminda Francis (masonry division); Mark Segro, Mark Stafford, Houston Adkins (woodworking division); Nathan Mikula, Nathan Ramsier (carpentry division); Hillary Lennox Segro, Mark Slater, Kari Grabinski, Sara Gibney (project management team). Brianna Hummel started with HPTC but now works at the White House as a preservation gardener. 

Lyndhurst mansion, Tarrytown, New York. Photo: Elisa Rolle/Wikipedia

Other graduates of Belmont’s Building Preservation / Restoration program have found employment at such historic-house museums as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Graceland, Montpelier, Stratford Hall, Mount Vernon, Lyndhurst, and Monticello, among others. 

Wright’s Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Photo: lachrimae72/Wikipedia

Still others work for private preservation contractors and non-profits. And many graduates have gone on to pursue degrees in architecture, architectural history, the fine arts, and community planning.

 For more information on Belmont College:

PHONE 740.695.9500

Product of the Week

© Copyright 2023 Home Group, a division of Active Interest Media. All Rights Reserved.

2143 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312