A pair of Milwaukee city officials say residents and the environment stand to benefit if older buildings are deconstructed, rather than simply demolished.
Aldermen Robert Bauman and Nik Kovac introduced a proposal this week that would require the deconstruction of certain residential structures that would otherwise be designated for demolition.
Specifically, the deconstruction requirements would apply to structures that were built before 1930 or have been designated historic structures, or are otherwise within a historic district.
The new rules would not apply to every structure that falls into these categories, according to city documents. An exemption would exist for buildings that were being moved instead of demolished or were found to be structurally unsafe. Another exemption would apply to structure whose building components were found to be mostly unsuitable for reuse.
The requirements would come with penalties. A violation could lead to as much as $3,000 worth of forfeitures in most circumstances. But if heavy machinery were used, the penalty could climb as high as $20,000. Contractors found in violation could also be removed from the city’s list of certified deconstruction contractors.
Separately, Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services could issue stop-work orders or conduct on-site inspections.
If passed by the Common Council and signed by Mayor Tom Barrett, the new requirements would go into effect on Jan. 1 for all pertinent demolition-permit applications.
The sponsors of the proposal argue these requirements would reduce not only carbon emissions but also the amount of harmful materials, including asbestos and dust, that is released into the air during demolition projects. It could also provide job opportunities to residents and cause taxpayers to spend less on landfill tipping fees.
“The demolition of Milwaukee’s older housing stock does more harm than good,” Bauman said in a statement. “New deconstruction requirements will benefit our environment and our workforce.”
The text of the proposed change points out that deconstruction requires more labor than demolition. When a building is knocked down, its components are often crunched up only to be disposed of in a landfill. Deconstruction, in contrast, requires crews to carefully take a structure apart, often removing components in the reverse order to how they were installed.
Travis Blomberg, executive director of WasteCap Resource Solutions, a non-profit group that promotes the reuse of old building materials, said he supports the proposal, calling it an opportunity to “jump-start Milwaukee’s reuse economy.”
“Deconstruction can provide several types of job opportunities including on-site deconstruction, warehouse operations, retail, value-added manufacturing, and job training,” Blomberg wrote in an email. “The environmental benefits of avoided landfill costs and air emissions make this ordinance even more appealing.”
But Wenbin Yuan, chief executive of New Berlin-based Dakota Intertek Corp., had some concerns.
“The deconstruction sounds good, but the inherent troubles are often underestimated,” he said in an email.
Deconstruction, for one, can expose workers to more mold and asbestos dust, he said in an email. Spending money to eliminate these dangers could cause a project’s cost to more than double, Yuan said.
“Even the definitions of deconstruction vs. demolition need further explanatory work, too,” he said.Follow @alexzank