Deconstructing Downtown Madison

In a college town like Madison, Wis., where the recycling participation rate never dips below 92 percent, innovative reuse projects are commonplace. Madison citizens expect to recycle, and that expectation extends to business endeavors. Consequently, when local philanthropist Jerry Frautschi created a charitable organization, the Overture Foundation, and donated $100 million to build a massive arts facility in the center of town, the facility's developers and architects decided to break new recycling ground as well.

Instead of demolishing the existing structures — one of which is the historic Bank One building, whose limestone facade was dragged by horses to Madison from Indiana in 1922 — the Overture Foundation has decided to “deconstruct” the buildings, and recycle and reuse materials along the way.

To guide the deconstruction effort, the foundation hired WasteCap Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization that specializes in waste reduction and recycling. WasteCap experts connected the center's developers with businesses and organizations willing to reuse pieces of the existing structures.

Long before the concrete was crushed, useful pieces of Madison's old Bank One building found new homes. This is because WasteCap invited five nonprofit organizations to walk through the existing structures and “tag” items of interest, including light fixtures, carpeting, architectural accents and railings. During deconstruction, the contractors removed each of the tagged items intact and set the items aside for pickup.

Additionally, Armstrong World Industries, a recycler based in Lancaster, Pa., is using the building's old ceiling tiles to make new ceiling tiles. Even the existing asphalt parking lots will be recycled, says Jenna Kundi, WasteCap's executive director.

“The difference [between deconstruction and demolition] is that with deconstruction, we pay attention to different materials in different ways,” Kundi says. “Instead of taking down the whole building in one chunk, deconstruction looks at the pieces and removes them individually.”

This process is not necessarily more expensive than traditional demolition and disposal, says Mike Hoffman, a developer's representative for the Overture Foundation. Reusing materials avoids tipping fees at landfills, he says, noting, “We are doing a meticulous job of documenting the cost as we proceed. It is our hope that we will be able to break even on this.”

WasteCap's hopes extend even further — to the future of construction projects in Wisconsin and across the country. “What I really hope is that in working with a large contracting company like [Madison-based] J. H. Findorff and Sons, we can make the recycling and reuse process simple and easy to recreate,” says Sonya Newenhouse, president of Madison Environmental Group, a local nonprofit organization working with WasteCap on the Overture project. “I hope that [deconstruction] will become a way of doing business.”