Walkabout: Building the case for deconstruction
On: November 04, 2019 | By:
In 2008 and 2010, Construction Junction disassembled several old properties in East Liberty and Squirrel Hill.
The store in Point Breeze, which sells salvaged building materials, got small grants from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and had the property owners’ blessings, but the cost was too high and the return too low to feed momentum.
Construction Junction’s executive director, Mike Gable, said the challenge is to identify buildings with the optimum yield of usable salvage, but cost and return aren’t the only considerations.
He said he is trying to work out a plan with the city to make deconstruction more of a win — more materials salvaged, thus less landfill waste; less costly materials for homeowners and builders, and job training opportunities.
This year’s Build Reuse Conference gave him hope that interest in deconstruction is trending nationally.
In its 25th year, the conference last week brought people from 30 states and Europe for three days of sessions at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland.
“It was a shot in the arm, a very energizing conference,” said Mr. Gable. “The hot topics were deconstruction ordinances and job training opportunities. Five or six cities are looking at some form of deconstruction ordinance.”
Construction Junction is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 12, using the anniversary to remind Pittsburgh of the larger efforts being made and the value in diverting usable materials from landfills. CJ is located at 214 N. Lexington St.
Mr. Gable, who also is the current board president of Build Reuse, cited Portland, Ore., as the first U.S. city to require deconstruction for homes that are 100 years old or older.
Joe Connell, executive director of Build Reuse, was on the committee that worked with the city of Portland to get that ordinance passed.
“It is clear in my mind that deconstruction is a tool, not a goal,” Mr. Connell said. “It is the most effective tool we have for salvaging the most amount of materials we can. But the goal is to get materials back into the community.”
A former home remodeler, Mr. Connell said he was buoyed that this year’s conference “broke the boundaries” of what the conference has been.
“We have mostly been a trade association, but this year, we had architects, city planners, historic preservationists, people from sustainable development, people from cities, all talking about this,” he said.
Many cities are committed to deconstruction but not all are passing ordinances. Because the lowest bidder for a demolition will never be a deconstruction crew, Baltimore has a policy that writes incentives for deconstruction into the language of bid proposals.
“They do a significant amount of deconstruction and they take the bidder who can meet diversion and employment goals that they establish in their bid documents,” Mr. Gable said. “They may be the most successful workforce development deconstructionists in the country.
“For every one job that’s created in doing conventional demolition, you can employ five to seven in a deconstruction.”
San Antonio has responded to public concerns about illegal demolitions by exploring a proactive motivation for people to choose deconstruction instead.
Stephanie Phillips, a historic preservationist with the city of San Antonio, said her office started a deconstruction and salvage initiative a year and a half ago, looking at ways to treat buildings more responsibly and to give people incentives to do the same.
Shannon Goodman has been campaigning for more diversion of materials in Atlanta, where she is executive director of the Lifecycle Building Center, founded eight years ago.
“The construction that is happening in Atlanta is so vast,” she said. “What we’ve diverted is a drop in the bucket of what could be reclaimed.”
Landfill tipping fees are low there, she said, so economic incentives have not been strong, but the environmental and job training arguments are resonating.
“We are about to launch deconstruction training for 40 individuals, but I can’t hire all 40 trainees,” Ms. Goodman said. “So the important thing for any city going through this process is to develop volume among contractors, residential remodelers and demolition companies to see the value in hiring people to take buildings apart for salvage opportunities.
“It is so important now because our industry is a huge link to emissions reductions. It is real and it needs investment.”
She said one of the best ways to change the construction culture is to train workers in deconstruction.
“When those people go out and get jobs,” she said, “they take those skills with them and can change the industry from the inside.”
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