Historic preservation has gone digital: Area high school students use technology to digitally preserve buildings

Historic preservation has gone digital Area high school students use technology to digitally preserve buildings

Local high school students are recreating a world that, until now, has only been a part of the past.

The nonprofit Perennial Project held its first Portals Showcase Tuesday at Brownsville Area Middle School, where students from five districts presented exhibits using cutting edge three-dimensional technology to show historical buildings and landmarks as they once were.

Perennial Project founder Joe Barantovich said bringing this technology to Brownsville seemed like the most natural thing to do, since the town has so many historic structures, and the need to preserve them was great.

“There was a faction of people in town who were committed to keeping everything,” said Barantovich. “We know we can’t keep everything.”

However, by creating a virtual Brownsville, Barantovich said historic digital preservation makes keeping everything possible.

The Epic Games Unreal Engine technology students used allows them to explore historic digital preservation in the classroom while doing the same kind of work that is being done at a collegiate level.

Initially, the technology was offered as an extracurricular activity for students, but has become part of the curriculum in Albert Gallatin Area, Brownsville Area, Jefferson-Morgan, Carmichaels and Mount Pleasant Area school districts.

Teams made presentations demonstrating each of their historic interactive digital recreations featuring sites like Fort Necessity, Searights Toll House, Crayne’s Schoolhouse and the LE Smith Glass Co. factories.

“The skills you’re learning here are the skills that are going to be taken over – have already been taken over – engineering, architecture, redevelopment, sports equipment design, every field has gotten to the point where this technology is used,” said Barantovich.

The participants would be the first to say that there were a lot of glitches and challenges to the technology, but that’s part of the digital world, and the students learned to brainstorm, work together, collaborate and come up with solutions.

The team from Albert Gallatin spent the first eight weeks learning everything they could about Fort Necessity and enlisted the help of the National Park Service, which operates the site.

NPS was able to provide students with historic maps, geographic studies and information from excavations conducted from various archaeological digs. The museum also has a diorama of the battle which comes in handy.

Their take on the project was not to just show the fort, but completely recreate the historic battlefield.

Collaboration was key, according to members of the Jefferson-Morgan team. They split up the duties for each team member based on their skills and interests.

Mark Dietrick with Carnegie-based Case Technologies, one of the program’s partners, said eight years ago, his company began digitally preserving the more than 3,000 historical sites and buildings in Volterra, Italy.

Recently, a news story broke about a portion of an ancient wall – which they had scanned – that collapsed in the city.

“It really shined a light on the importance of what we do,” said Dietrick.

The company will sit down with city leaders to have discussions on how they can use the data they have from scanning the wall to potentially reconstruct it.

As a company, Dietrick said, they were looking for opportunities to use that same idea in the US Brownsville, as a Rust Belt community that has several historic assets, was the perfect place.

And, he said, the company was thrilled to allow students access to the technology.

“You guys are doing amazing work. “It’s very difficult technology to use so we are very proud of the accomplishments,” said Dietrick.

The name of the event, Portals Showcase, is significant. Dietrick said portals connect things and in this case the portals connect the past to the future.

“Not only do you get to use cutting edge technology of the future, but you have the opportunity to study the history and heritage of your local community and understand how special it is.”