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spacer spacer Renewing the past to save the future

Nonprofit group recycles supplies to aid community

Article by Freeman Klopott, Keene Sentinel, 2/21/2007

This house is hollow.

The walls have been pulled down by hand, with some help from crowbars; much of the ceiling is bashed in, or has been removed. All that remains of the Keene house are the outer walls, and the original wood plank floors. And that's only after seven days of work by the five-man crew from Brattleboro-based ReNew Building Materials and Salvage Inc., a nonprofit company that recycles and reuses the materials it gathers from buildings that it's hired to tear down.

Keene State College has hired the company to tear down 98 Winchester St., one of three buildings the college will replace with a parking lot over the next few months. The materials in the other two buildings on that block don't have much resale value, so, for the most part, they will be demolished with traditional methods; machines rip the buildings and everything inside to pieces, and what's left behind goes to the dump, said Mary E. Jensen, the recycling coordinator at Keene State College.

This is the first time the college has contracted with ReNew, which in fall 2005 opened the doors to its 22,000-square-foot store on Putney Road in Brattleboro, where the materials gathered from demolition projects are sold at 25 to 50 percent of the cost of new materials, said founder and president Erich Kruger. It costs about the same to hire ReNew to deconstruct a building as it would to hire a company that uses bulldozers and wrecking balls, Kruger said, but the cash spent on ReNew is a tax write-off.

Keene State College doesn't write anything off since it's a state-run college, Jensen said, but hiring the nonprofit for the work fits neatly with the school's environmentally-friendly-building plan that has already resulted in the construction of "green" buildings on campus, such as the dormitory Pondside 3. "This is the first time we've salvaged a building to such a degree," Jensen said. "We needed to give it a try to see how it works." Kruger said he expects to reuse or recycle 50 to 70 percent of the building materials from the Winchester Street house, which for the last few years has served as teaching and administration space for the science center and music faculty.

The building's original wood flooring, appliances and flat nails are valuable from a salvage point of view, Jensen said. The other two buildings were remodeled and turned into dormitories, lowering the resale value of what could be found there, she said. Students who were living in the two buildings have moved to Pondside 3, Jensen said. So far there haven't been any extraordinary finds at 98 Winchester St., said Peter Hawkins, who manages the dismantling crew that works 12-hour days ripping the house apart. The most interesting item was a newspaper from 1946, likely stuffed into the wall as insulation, Hawkins said.

The first thing the crew did was pull out the electrical outlets, light sockets and wiring, then it started working on the walls and floors, he said. The salvageable items are trucked back to the retail space in Brattleboro, where any profits are donated to organizations that develop affordable housing in the region, like Habitat For Humanity, Kruger said. In return, those groups sometimes lend a hand, Kruger said. Keene State College's Habitat for Humanity group has been helping at 98 Winchester St., he said.

Once all three buildings have been knocked down, Jensen said, the ground will be leveled and graveled, making additional parking spaces available in time for graduation at the end of May. Jensen said she liked ReNew for its community service component and it's likely the college will include the company in future demolition projects.

Freeman Klopott can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1433, or fklopott@keenesentinel.com.


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