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Waste not, want not: ESF students lead proposal to salvage houses

Micah Benson | Art Director

For SUNY-ESF students like Dylan Sorensen, the cheapest way to take down old buildings is not necessarily the best way.

Sorensen, a senior environmental science major at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry who is also a staff writer at The Daily Orange, is one of several ESF students who helped plan a more environmental way to remove houses to make room for ESF’s new Academic Research Building.

He and his classmates took a special topic course in 2010 in which they proposed salvaging valuable materials from 11 houses dating back to the 1920s and 30s that once stood across from Centennial Hall, he said.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that you could just recycle these houses,” Sorensen said, “I figured that you couldn’t reuse wood floors because nobody would want regraded wood, but it seems there is a very strong market for it.”

ReUse Action, based out of Buffalo, carried out the physical deconstruction and the dispersal of materials, said Mike Gainer, the president of the organization.

The entire project cost about $10,000 per house, Gainer said.

One of the main reasons establishments are usually demolished is because of the high cost of deconstruction. The cost of disposal can be as low as $25 in Syracuse, while the cost of deconstruction is higher due to labor costs, he said.

Contractors salvaged materials from the houses from October until mid-December, said Paul Crovella, a professor in the Department of Sustainable Construction Management and Engineering at ESF who taught the class that created the proposal.

The contractors used a process called deconstruction, which involves recovering reusable material from buildings and finding new uses for it, Crovella said.

As a result of deconstruction, 65 percent of the houses were diverted from landfills, Crovella said. This included structural elements of the home that could be recycled, like copper and wood, as well as items that could be reused right away, like stained-glass windows and cabinets.

Crovella started the course in response to student concern about the way 18 other houses were removed by the ESF administration to make room for new dorms in 2010, he said.

Although many materials inside these houses, such as cabinets and lights, were donated to the Syracuse Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore program, he said. The major structural elements of the houses were demolished.

Crovella said he was aware that ESF was planning on removing even more houses, so he quickly sent out an email announcing that he was starting the deconstruction planning class.

ESF administration was open to the idea after hearing the class’ research proposal, he said.

Students were involved with many aspects of the proposal, Crovella said. He gave the example of determining how to safely recycle materials that contained lead paint, which was used during the era in which the houses were built.

Marc Delaney, a senior sustainable construction management engineering major, ran tests to determine the different levels of lead for both deconstructed and demolished properties.

“They know how much lead would get into the soil from demolishing, but nobody really knows how much would get into the soil from deconstruction yet,” Delaney said. “That was my role.”

The results showed there was less lead near houses that were deconstructed, he said.

Crovella said he thinks students in the class learned more than just the environmental benefits of deconstruction.

Said Crovella: “The real skill I think that all the students developed was a more holistic way of looking at problems.”

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