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June 26, 2014

Veterans find camaraderie in carpentry

  • The Vets Restore pilot program last year trained veterans in preservation carpentry with help from Seattle Central College.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Photos courtesy of Historic Seattle [enlarge]
    Veteran Brandon Reddell, left, restores a window under the instruction of Kevin Palo of Ten Mile Restoration.

    Scott Carlson served in the Army National Guard as an infantryman in Baghdad for most of 2005, and has been in different branches of the military since 1998.

    The 37-year-old has a bachelor's degree in political science/international relations from the University of Washington and did three internships: for the city of Kirkland, Sen. Patty Murray and the Pentagon.

    Now he wants his career to take a more hands-on turn.

    Carlson recently earned carpentry certificates from Seattle Central College. He also completed the Vets Restore program sponsored by 4Culture, a King County public development authority that provides cultural services.

    “I am just drawn to the camaraderie of carpentry. I am not just sure why,” Carlson said. “It does remind me of my time and the work I did in the military. I am not really cut out for office work. I want to become a great carpenter at least.”

    Students in the Vets Restore program rehabbed 10 windows and a staircase at the historic Washington Hall in the Central District of Seattle.

    Vets Restore offers historic preservation education and career opportunities to returning King County veterans. Participants receive a seven-week practicum in preservation carpentry led by Historic Seattle, a preservation development authority that restores historic buildings in the city.

    Participants also receive case management, guidance counseling and financial assistance with tools, gear and transportation from the King County Veterans' Program and a five-week paid internship with building industry firms that include Bear Wood Windows, JAS Design Build and the Rafn Co., along with job placement assistance.

    Kji Kelly, deputy director of Historic Seattle, said vets in the Vets Restore pilot program last year got training in preservation carpentry from the Wood Technology Center at Seattle Central College.

    After that, they worked on Washington Hall, a 100-year-old building owned by Historic Seattle.

    Kelly said they did forensic work before jumping in with repairs.

    “These people in the program spend a lot of time not with a hammer in their hand but with a pencil,” he said. “Before you can begin any work on a historic building you have to understand how it was originally constructed.”

    That may entail gently removing layers of material and doing pencil sketches and taking photos of the existing conditions so you know how to put back together what you are working on, he said.

    Last year the vets did a survey of 10 windows at Washington Hall, sketching the dimensions of the glass and wood, and describing each window's condition and its hardware.

    They then replaced broken glass, repaired or replaced damaged wood, restrung window sashes and painted them, installed weather stripping and put in historically accurate hardware, Kelly said.

    They also built a replacement for a non-historic staircase from the first floor to the basement and replaced stair treads on historic stairs.

    The vets learned about Seattle architecture and history, reviewed Washington Hall's building plans, and put together a budget and schedule for their work.

    Kelly said they are taught by people who have done this work for decades. That includes Rick Sever, principal of Residential Construction, a Seattle design-build firm specializing in pre-1960s homes.

    Brandon Reddell works on a window sash cord at Washington Hall.

    Sever holds a bachelor's degree in art history with an emphasis in architectural history and design from the UW and is co-founder of the Historic Seattle Preserving Your Old House program.

    There's a huge market for graduates of the program, Kelly said.

    “There's not a lot of contractors in the Seattle market that specialize in just restoration, but every contractor I've ever worked for wants a worker that can figure things out,” he said.

    Carlson has a summer job as an apprentice carpenter at JAS Design Build doing residential remodeling.

    He said he has received many job offers — from residential and commercial contractors and cabinet shops — and will consider them when he finishes his apprenticeship.

    He is leaning toward a job offer as a facilities services coordinator at the UW library, where he worked during college.

    He said the Seattle Central and Vets Restore training will help him with the hands-on maintenance of the library. It also gives him industry connections and the know-how to restore a 113-year-old house in Issaquah he and his wife recently bought.

    Carlson was born in Sunnyside. He said he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998. He was a Marine Corps journalist at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, and in Okinawa, Japan, until 2002.

    He left the military for a short time, but joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 2003, and was deployed as a port security man to Kuwait when the Iraq war started.

    When he returned from Kuwait, he requested a conditional release from the Coast Guard so he could join the Army National Guard. He was an infantryman in Baghdad in 2005 before suffering a minor injury and returning home.

    Carlson recommends the Vets Restore program to other vets.

    “It goes back to the camaraderie of the trades,” he said. “You're got a lot of people working very closely in a hectic, dangerous environment. It requires a lot of teamwork.”

    Carlson said the program is most successful when Seattle Central is involved, as the staff has extensive hands-on experience and the right carpentry tools.

    Kelly said Seattle Central is not part of program for 2014, but wants to be in the future. He said there is “real value in having them partner with us.”

    Last year three vets graduated from the Vets Restore pilot program, Kelly said, and this year eight are expected to enroll.

    Vets Restore is a partnership of 4Culture, King County Veterans' Program and Historic Seattle. The money to support the program comes from 4Culture and the Veterans and Human Services Levy.

    Flo Lentz, preservation lead at 4Culture, said the program focuses on rehabbing older buildings in the Northwest, not just officially designated historic ones. Those include wood bungalows, commercial buildings, schools and churches.

    Lentz said the companies that offer internships through the Vets Restore program are critical “because they are providing the veterans with real world experience, on the job experience.”

    She said people who complete the program should be able to get a job at an apprenticeship level with a construction company.

    This year the program will focus on restoring wood windows in older buildings, she said.

    Grace Morrisson, an owner of Tacoma-based Bear Wood Windows, will lead that component, and Sever will also be an instructor.

    Lentz said vets are likely well suited to the construction rehab trade because they have experience problem solving, working as a team, giving attention to detail, and focusing on a mission.

    “We like the idea of the restoration work connecting veterans with revitalizing — bringing buildings back to life,” she said. “We think that might be a good transition for veterans returning from post 9/11 military service looking for meaningful work.”

    To be eligible for the program, candidates must live in King County, have served 180 days of active duty in the U.S. military, and not have been dishonorably discharged.

    Priority is given to veterans who served post 9/11. Apply by Aug. 15 at vetsrestore.org.

    For more information, contact Candice Corey at (206) 477-6989.


    Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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