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Home / Environment / With deconstruction policy on hold, Milwaukee officials still planning to scrap some blighted properties

With deconstruction policy on hold, Milwaukee officials still planning to scrap some blighted properties

After lawmakers in January temporarily halted a sputtering law requiring historic homes to be deconstructed rather than demolished, Milwaukee officials are planning to use deconstruction to take down not quite half of the blighted properties the city hopes to clear away this year.

The city is setting aside $3.1 million to rid neighborhoods of between 117 and 122 blighted properties this year. Of those, 50 are to be deconstructed.

By using deconstruction rather than demolition to take down a building, crews are often able to salvage old-growth timber and other materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Alderman Bob Bauman said on Tuesday he’s happy to see the city move ahead with deconstruction policies, which have displayed “fits and starts” since being adopted in late 2017.

“I hope that we can get back to 100 percent deconstruction after this summer,” he said.

City officials enacted a deconstruction policy in late 2017 requiring contractors to take apart historic homes built before 1930 instead of knocking them down. Despite having the support of many officeholders, the new requirement struggled in its first year.

Critics blamed the deconstruction mandate for an increase in blighted properties in the city. Others complained that city officials had never held training seminars to help contractors understand the policy. Officials responded by voting in January to put the policy on hold until March 2020.

Even so, the Department of Neighborhood Development is planning to perform deconstruction work this year. Tom Mishefske, commissioner of the DNS, said the department is seeking to raze 47 properties in 2019 and deconstruct 50 blighted buildings. The Department of Public Works, meanwhile, is planning to perform between 20 and 25 demolitions.

The department is using a $1 million grant from the Department of Financial Institutions to pay for part of the work. Also helping will be a budget amendment setting aside $1.5 million to combat neighborhood blight.

Although the DNS expects it will be cheaper to raze properties than deconstruct them, some officials nonetheless believe the cost of deconstruction won’t be wildly impractical. Mishefske said he and his colleagues expect demolition projects to cost $15,170 on average and deconstruction to cost $31,853.

“This is a good opportunity to see what our experience is as we do a larger number of deconstructions,” he said.

Billy Spencer, CEO and founder of the Milwaukee contractor Spencer Renovation and Construction, told the committee that he’s been contracted for deconstruction projects this season and plans to hire 20 employees for that work.

Spencer said deconstruction projects can be a good stepping stone for people interested in making a career in the construction industry. He’s started a training program to teach his 20 or so employees how to perform these sorts of projects safely and effectively.

Deconstruction can also bring lucrative surprises, he said.

“The wood in these houses is so valuable and can be reused,” Spencer said. “I do not like seeing wood in these houses go to the landfill. “They can be re-sold, they can create an opportunity for somebody to start a business.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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