There's A Growing Trend To Repurpose More, Landfill Less When Deconstructing Buildings

Nov 6, 2018

There’s a striking illustration of the old and the new in downtown Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Bucks’ new $524 million arena, the Fiserv Forum, stands next to the team’s former home, the Bradley Center. 

Work has been underway to salvage pieces of the Bradley Center before it's demolished. The work is part of a growing trend to deconstruct and reuse, rather than landfill.
 

Light fixture being salvaged.
Credit Susan Bence

In September, the only life evident within the Bradley Center was a small sea of volunteers led by Jake Weiler, the deconstruction services manager for Habitat for Humanity. The team was removing reusable items from the third floor where basketball fans used to enjoy games in snazzy suites.

“We’re going to do upper cabinets, lower cabinets, faucets, light fixtures, and then if we can get them, there’s metal threaded hose that I think will be really sellable at the store,” Weiler said.

Weiler is talking about ReStore shops — places where Habitat for Humanity sells donated materials and resellable items the deconstruction team gathers. The proceeds help pay to rehab or build new homes with families who need them.
 

In order to guide the volunteers, every item at the former Bucks arena was stickered following a color code.

“I have stickered the entire Bradley Center. Orange means do not take that item. When you see green that means that’s a product we want to pull and work on,” Weiler explained.

Habitat for Humanity also salvaged Bucks players' old lockers and some used by the Admirals and Marquette University.

Bucks' (left) and Marquette lockers on ReStore floor.
Credit Jake Brandt

By the time volunteers hauled their final load a few weeks later, they had filled 16 24-foot trucks with treasures.

Mike Abrams works for CAA ICON, the company that coordinated the construction of the Fiserv Forum, and what he calls the methodical demolition of the Bradley Center. He says work crews will remain busy inside for months. Then the Bradley Center’s exterior shell will come down. 

Steve Hosier is vice president of demolition at Veit & Company, which has been subcontracted to take the Bradley Center down. “I know as far as the building goes, it’s made out of concrete. All of that will be crushed. The whole steel roof will be recycled. Actually, the roofing is copper,” Hosier added, “We’ll be salvaging lots of copper.”
 

Beyond The Bradley Center

I recently met Hosier at a different project in Racine along the Root River. His team is demolishing a series of 11 buildings many of them very old. One building has asbestos siding, which must be carefully removed and landfilled. But Hosier says workers can save everything from bricks to pallets of wood from the other buildings.

“They’re lifting up the all the maple. They de-nail it, stack it ... it’s going to be reused,” Hosier added, “The same goes for the sub-flooring.”

He says this project’s goal is to recycle 90 percent of anything that’s salvageable.

“You know there’s salvage in every job. It’s up to us to determine what percentage. That’s what makes people competitive,” Hosier said.

One person's junk is another's art. Kathryn Thoman outside Recyclean, Inc. warehouse in Kenosha.
Credit Susan Bence

Kathryn Thoman helps run Recyclean, Inc. in Kenosha — the company’s warehouse is full of wood flooring and subflooring on the edge of town.

Thoman says it's possible to find a new use for just about everything through the deconstruction process. “We’ve done entire 3,000 square-foot houses and had two Hefty bags that go the landfill," she added.

For instance take drywall, “Once you take the paper off, because it’s made of minerals you sprinkle the gypsum in the soil and it calcifies it. Even yucky ceiling tiles to icky carpet can be made into a new product,” she said.

While deconstruction comes with environmental benefits, Thoman says necessity drove her boss to start the business. “During the recession of 2008, he had actually been a builder. When that industry dried up he had to reimagine in order to survive and this is what he came up with,” she explained.

Today, Thoman says what once might have been considered construction waste is sought after by developers and builders. That's on top of keeping tons of reusable building materials out of landfills.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.

_