Historic mansion and gardens awarded grant for apprentice program

CANANDAIGUA — Kevin Coon is known as the “mechanic genius” around Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park. He’s the guy behind the not-so-pretty stuff that needs constant tending and fixing — from electrical wiring to building repairs.

Thanks to a new program, Coon is working with another familiar face around Sonnenberg: Bill Wagner, now Coon’s apprentice to become a certified building mechanic technician.

Wagner is one of three people at Sonnenberg kicking off a new apprentice program through a grant from the New York State Department of Labor. The program will help Sonnenberg as well as the apprentices, said David Hutchings, Sonnenberg executive director. The apprentices receive training, increased wages and valuable skills they can use at Sonnenberg and for future employment, he said.

Sonnenberg relies on volunteers and will continue to, Hutchings said —but it also needs skilled staff, and this program will provide that.

“This is our vision — we are moving into a new era,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings explained the program “will raise up workers who currently get $12 to $13 an hour, to raise their wages to $15 or better ... we are trying to get them into a livable wage.” He added that after leaving Sonnenberg, the workers will have those skills and credentials to use in the workplace.

The Department of Labor grant is $87,134 for Sonnenberg, one of the first places in the region to receive the funds through a federal program. The goal is “to support states’ efforts to expand and diversify Registered Apprenticeship to better respond to industry workforce demands,” Sonnenberg announced in a recent release.

Two other apprentices in this first round of the program at Sonnenberg are Quinton Kolbeck and David DeMallie. DeMallie, who is currently head gardener, will grow his expertise to become full-time landscape nursery manager. Kolbeck, who currently works part-time on the grounds, will train to become a certified stone mason.

Along with the new apprentice program taking off at the mansion and gardens in the city of Canandaigua, restoration of the park’s historic features and buildings is ongoing. The state historic site recently received a $20,000 grant from the Davenport-Hatch Foundation for its Rock Garden Waterway Restoration project. The funds will help repair and restore water features including waterfalls, water courses and pools in Sonnenberg’s 100-year old Rock Garden.

In its current state, the Rock Garden’s water features don’t work and have only limited ability to retain water. The grant contributes to a total estimated cost of $1 million for the project. Work is scheduled to begin in 2019.