Returning students will notice a modern addition to Bay State Road at the Center for Student Services, but one block away history is being restored. For the summer renovation of 60 Bay State Road, a brownstone that houses graduate students, the University is attempting to preserve the historical integrity of the building while at the same time providing modern amenities.
An ornate carved stone border frames the entrance of the building, which was built in 1895. Over the past 100 years part of the original border was lost which posed a problem for contractors renovating the building this summer. The missing section could be easily reproduced mechanically, but the detail would not be identical to the rest of the border. Instead, the contractor decided to have the piece hand carved so that it would match the egg-and-dart pattern of the original border.
Since concrete and steel have become much more common than stone as materials in the past century, the amount of skilled stone carvers has waned. Jerry LeBlanc, the founder of Trademark Stone Cutting, is hoping to change this. For over twenty years LeBlanc has helped to restore historical buildings in the Northeast using his stills to repair and replace stonework. A bricklayer by trade, LeBlanc studied stone carving in England through a fellowship in art school. While there are only a few stone carvers remaining in the United States, LeBlanc says that the craft is alive and well in Europe.
LeBlanc estimated it took him over 60 hours to finish carving the new piece at a comparable cost to using a machine. While hand carving is much more time consuming than using a machine, the quality is unmatched. A hand carved design can last up to 500 years. In addition, Leblanc was lucky enough to find a piece of the exact stone used for the original design, a stone which has not been quarried in over 60 years. East Longmeadow, the town from which the original brownstone of the building came from, disallowed quarrying due to the negative environmental impact of the process. LeBlanc was able to get a salvage piece that matched the original.
Though it is a painstaking process and the stone may be hard to come by at times, LeBlanc says he would like to see the art of stone carving return to the Unites States. While he has always worked solo, he would love to have apprentices come from Europe, since they are highly trained, which would allow him to work on a greater number of projects.
While BU paid much attention to the historical detail of the building, which entailed coordinating the work with the Back Bay Preservation Society, tenants will not feel like they are living in a building that is over a century old. All of the ten apartments in the building will be outfitted with modern day, Energy Star appliances and low flow toilets along with a new energy-efficient boiler. The renovations will also make the building wheelchair accessible by adding a ramp in back to make making the basement unit accessible.