Nonprofit Raising Funds for Masonry Preservation at Missions

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Maintenance to stone work on Mission Concepción and others will require funding through grants.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Funds raised by the nonprofit Mission Heritage Partners for stonework maintenance at Mission Concepción and the other missions will be matched by the federal government.

The San Antonio Missions Historical Park is working on a $300,000 project to preserve portions of the stonework around the missions, Park Superintendent Mardi Arce announced this week.

The National Park Service started its Centennial Challenge in 2015 to tackle a maintenance backlog, giving federal grants to national parks if they find matching funds. Nonprofit Mission Heritage Partners aims to raise $150,000 over the next year, paving the way for the missions to receive a matching federal grant.

“These partnerships and the federal and private dollars dedicated to a range of projects are a legacy of the National Park Service Centennial,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in a news release. “The Centennial Challenge projects continue our focus on investments to improve park facilities, enhance park accessibility and help visitors discover the rich natural and cultural history as well as the incredible physical landscapes of the more than 400 parks of the National Park System.”

Mission Heritage Partners has raised more than $4 million to support the San Antonio missions since its founding in 1984.

The group’s executive director, Rosebud Coffey, said the stone masonry required in historical preservation of the missions differs significantly from modern masonry.

“The preservation techniques they use is a very different craft, a different skill set,” she said. “And the training involved is different. You’re not going to have the regular stonemasons you’d have today.”

The targeted $300,000 would go toward training stonemasons in historic preservation masonry and adding more masons to the park’s staff, Coffey said. Right now, there are two full-time stonemasons and occasionally a few apprentices that take care of more than 270,000 square feet.

“This is day-in and day-out [maintenance], every day of the year,” Coffey said.

Any stonemasons added with the grant’s funding would not be kept on after the money runs out, Arce said.

“Assuming that Mission Heritage Partners raises $150,000, once the $300,000 is spent, that’ll be the end of it,” Arce said. “We’re always hoping for more funding for our masonry program and continue to apply for funds for that. This will be a bump up in our masonry crew, but once that $300,000 is gone, those temporary employees will go away as well.”

Since 2015, the National Park Service’s Centennial Challenge project has received more than $68 million from Congress to address the maintenance backlog of national parks around the country, and partner organizations similar to Mission Heritage Partners have given more than $102 million. But as of Sept. 30, 2017, the maintenance backlog across all national parks was $11.6 billion.

“About half is for paved roads and structures, and that all has to do with roadways — bridges, tunnels, paved roads,” Arce said. “The other half, around $5.7 billion, is for all the other stuff — trails, wastewater systems, marinas, monuments, amphitheaters, fortifications.”

“The Grand Canyon, their wastewater system is near failing,” she added. “I forget the bill. But it’s huge.”

Though the potential of receiving $300,000 is incredibly helpful, Arce said it doesn’t get near the total maintenance backlog for the missions. As of Sept. 30 last year, the missions had $6.9 million in maintenance backlog. National parks in Texas had $167.7 million in backlog.

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