Guest Column: Blight can be beautiful — part one

Kerry Knodle
Kerry Knodle

By Kerry Knodle

The debate that has recently unfolded at Rockford City Hall regarding our community’s need to demolish blighted properties was needed, but it didn’t go far enough. For years, the city has predominantly utilized the “fast track” method of demolition, which notices property owners, but almost always results in a vacant lot — still owned by a third party — with a demolition lien that is never pursued. The result — lots of lots that produce no tax revenue nor have any useful purpose but must now be maintained (often by city contractors with more liens attached).

And yet, on the horizon are ways to accomplish multiple beneficial results as more and more properties are demolished. Imagine if we could: 1) minimize the amount of demolition waste poured into our landfill, AND 2) re-use some useful building materials from these properties AND 3) create a way for those properties to be put back into useful service? The answers: DECONSTRUCTION AND LAND BANKS. Today’s article will address the first one — deconstruction. (Psst … it’s been going on in Rockford for a while, but quietly.)

Deconstruction is building disassembly of both the structural and non-structural components and material salvage. Deconstruction involves carefully taking apart sections of a building or removing their contents with the primary goal of reuse.

Studies show that deconstruction is being used, on a limited scale, as an economic development tool. Deconstruction can create job training and job opportunities for unskilled and unemployed workers.

Toward this end, deconstruction has been incorporated as a component of workforce development training to enhance the skills and marketability of program participants toward construction-related employment.

Deconstruction can also create small businesses to handle the salvaged material from deconstruction projects. Further, older properties in some communities may provide useful structural and non-structural building materials. Deconstruction, where it has been used, diverts these materials from landfills into productive, profitable reuse in building maintenance, renovation and other applications.

The majority of deconstruction-related activities are small, often informal and limited by an inconsistent supply of recovered building materials. Deconstruction has been incorporated into renovation and remodeling projects by private-sector contractors and nonprofit organizations. Non-profit organizations have had some success working in the field of deconstruction because of grant funding and the ability to provide tax deductions to building owners for salvaged materials. Our organization, Comprehensive Community Solutions, Inc., (CCS) has been carrying out deconstruction projects for the past several years with considerable success! Nonprofit Used Building Material Retail Operations (UBMROs) are an emerging market nationwide, although most individual stores operate at a small-scale level — there are two in Rockford: Salvage Too (South Main Street) and Habitat for Humanity (North Main Street).

The feasibility of deconstruction as an economic development vehicle depends on the type of deconstruction activity and the market for recovered materials. Non-structural deconstruction, i.e., the salvaging of non-structural components and materials such as flooring, cabinetry and appliances, is a mature industry with consistent used building material markets in multiple regions across the United States. Structural deconstruction, which consists of salvaging structural components such as joists and beams, can be described as an emerging market.

Over the past few months, a committee of local, regional and statewide representatives has been meeting and exploring how to best incorporate deconstruction into the prevailing “demolition” landscape that exists. The good news — the idea is receiving generally favorable consideration, and, we hope, will make its way into the mainstream soon.

Kerry Knodle is founder and executive director/CEO of Comprehensive Community Solutions, Inc., in Rockford.

From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue

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