Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Taking buildings apart piece by piece

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette USA, By Kevin Kirkland

In a city with more than 200 condemned buildings, how hard could it be to find one to dismantle and salvage? Harder than removing a million rusty nails and stripped screws, it turns out.

Construction Junction, a nonprofit retailer of used and surplus building materials in North Point Breeze, gets most of its windows, paint, cabinets and other items as donations.

In September, it went one step further, taking down a house in East Liberty through "deconstruction" -- separating and recycling wood, metal, brick and other house parts, keeping them out of landfills. Now the 9-year-old organization would like to do more such projects in Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. But first, they'll have to break through a wall of legal issues and demolition procedures that were created to take down more eyesores as cheaply as possible.

"This is about more than reusing things people throw away," said Mike Gable, Construction Junction's director. "This is an economic development strategy. The more material we intercept, the more material we put in the marketplace, the more people we employ."

It's a complicated issue that bedevils communities nationwide. Cities in Washington and California offer incentives or simply require developers to divert at least 50 percent of building waste from overburdened landfills.

Brad Guy, a Regent Square-based sustainability consultant who recently visited Cleveland to teach deconstruction, believes Pittsburgh could do better. "Pittsburgh is a city with a strong green builder movement. People would rather harvest the community's resources and make the most of everything we have," he said.

The Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan released in June mentions deconstruction and recycling construction waste, but ridding city neighborhoods of ugly, unsafe buildings that sometimes shelter crime is a much bigger priority for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said acting mayoral spokesman Joanna Doven. "The mayor is always interested in having the dialog but his first priority is public safety," Ms. Doven said. "If we do this, will it take longer for this vacant house to come down? Will it cost more?"

The answer to both questions is yes, but only for the handful of houses that Construction Junction could deconstruct each year. The cost to dismantle the house at 6121 E. Liberty Blvd. was $20,000, covered by a grant from the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. With the blessing of East Liberty Development Inc. and the help of demolition contractor ICX, an eight-man crew spent 4 1/2 days in late September razing the 2 1/2-story wood-framed house. Demolition, meanwhile, would have taken roughly 1-2 days and cost about $10,600, Mr. Gable said.

The project was a learning exercise, not a money-maker or big waste diverter. Dave Bennink of RE-USE Consulting in Bellingham, Wash., who has deconstructed nearly 500 buildings nationwide, showed the crew techniques to speed the process, including cutting the house into huge panels that could be more easily disassembled.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.