Builder, Save That Oak Door (with apologies to George Pope Morris)*

I live in a city that charges residents for garage collection and disposal. If you recycle, your fee is reduced. The more you recycle, the less you pay. And, since the stuff stays out of the landfill, the more good you do.

In Madison, Wisconsin, commercial deconstruction and recycling are no different. It doesn’t hurt that the city now requires contractors to write deconstruction plans before they tackle a building.

According to Kelly Humphry, project manager for deconstruction and recycling at Madison Environmental Group, there’s a powerful incentive for contractors and building owners to recycle rather than dump. Humphry said, “The biggest thing that motivates our clients is that it makes financial sense. Even though recycled material has gone down in price, it’s better than paying the landfill tipping fee. For contractors, it’s a no-brainer.”

Surprisingly, there’s a market for almost everything. Items that are movable are especially easy to reuse. Furniture, cabinets, and sinks are all desirable. Unusual or antique items have a healthy reuse market. Humphry said, “We did a project for Beloit College, deconstructing their old Science Building. They had beautiful old stuff that you’d expect to find in a science building—furniture, chairs, desks.” Surprising things do well on the market. Acoustical tile sells briskly on Craigslist.

In Madison, much of the reusable building material goes to Dane County’s ReStore, the local outlet for Habitat for Humanity. The Madison Environmental Group has also held public sales. Whatever the outlet, everything is sold at a discount. When Beloit College’s chair and desks and sinks went on sale, Humphry said, “We set the prices low. The goal was to get things to move—to get rid of them.”

Two of Madison Environmental Group’s current projects show the power of ingenuity in finding a new home for old building materials. One is the deconstruction of the University of Wisconsin’s Union building at the Madison south campus. It’s been an ongoing partnership between Madison Environmental Group, Milwaukee contractor C.G. Schmidt, demolition contractor VEIT, and the University community.

The old Union building was full of furniture, lockers and shelving, kitchen equipment, and fixtures of all kinds. The University’s own reuse outlet, SWAP (Surplus with a Purpose), took, as Humphry said, “truckloads and truckloads out of the building.” Madison Environmental Group found markets for the kitchen equipment, the stainless steel cabinets, and of course, the acoustical tile. The lighting and the banisters went to ReStore. VEIT salvaged shelving and metal cabinets, and found a home for the most unusual items—including the bowling alley and all its equipment.

The copper cladding over the fireplace went to an artist, who plans to reuse it in a new work of art, and even the landscape stones have found a new home elsewhere on the campus.

The Madison Children’s Museum is another example of how a building owner can be creative about reuse. The Museum is planning to move. Its “new” building is a 100-year-old structure, designed as a department store, which they plan to transform for the purposes of a museum. As they plan to redesign and remodel, they’ve identified materials to save, especially doors, trim, and glass. They build exhibits and hope to re-use the old materials that way. Humphry said, “What’s great is that as they’re moving in, they identify things in the new building to reuse and re-fashion.”

Good for the environment and for an organization’s bottom line—what could be better? Humphry said, “One great thing about deconstruction is that doing the right thing for the environment makes financial sense.”

*George Pope Morris, 19th-century journalist and poet, wrote the famous poem-turned-song, “Woodman, spare that tree” in 1837.


One response to “Builder, Save That Oak Door (with apologies to George Pope Morris)*

  1. Great article, thanks for the information.

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