Intelligent Expenditure of Tax Dollars

Intelligent Expenditure of Tax DollarsTRP recently participated in a well conceived government program in Kansas City, MO, designed to relieve blight and recover reusable materials from abandoned homes. While this deconstruction program will continue for 18 more months, the people involved in its creation and successful kickoff deserve early recognition. Theirs is an excellent demonstration of what can be accomplished when everyone works together and no single entity or individual insists on taking credit.

Countless municipalities throughout the U.S. have received AARA (stimulus) funding. This program is uniquely compelling for three reasons:

  1. The level of cooperation and collaboration among the partners
  2. The positive attitude of the trainees
  3. The requirement that the contractors chosen to deconstruct the abandoned houses hire trainees who satisfactorily complete the deconstruction training course.

Partners include:

  • EnergyWorksKC, a program established by the city for distributing AARA funds from the U.S. Department of Energy. These funds have enabled the city to embark on the building deconstruction program.
  • Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), which provided grant funding to TRP for the training of both deconstruction workers and area contractors. MARC also coordinates the involvement of the various partners.
  • The Office of the City Manager, the source of additional funds for the deconstruction program and for hazardous materials identification and abatement.
  • The Department of Dangerous Buildings, which is responsible for reviewing abandoned buildings and identifying those with the highest value recoverable materials.
  • Ivanhoe Community Center, responsible for screening trainees for the deconstruction training program and arranging classroom space.
  • The Full Employment Council (FEC), which arranged for trainees to receive work boots, work clothes, and OSHA training.
  • Habitat for Humanity Kansas City. The designated recipient of all salvaged materials, Habitat also provided classroom space for the contractor training workshop.
  • TRP, responsible for delivering contractor and worker training programs, providing deconstruction oversight, and collecting diversion and disposal data on the deconstruction projects.

Fourteen individuals from the Ivanhoe neighborhood were selected to receive deconstruction worker training. A few had construction experience but most did not. From beginning to end, they were enthusiastic, willing to work and learn, and coalesced into a great working team. Written tests were given at the end of each classroom day, with some students achieving perfect scores. Every member of the class successfully completed the course requirements and received a certificate.

As is customary in TRP trainings, all tools were loaned to the participants, including those they carried in their tool belts: framing hammer, lineman's pliers, utility knife, set of screwdrivers, adjustable wrench and flat bar. Company tools included generators, power saws, screw guns and large pry bars. An onsite lockable steel container held the company tools, and I suggested that the students leave their tools in that container as well, since most either walked to the jobsite or took the bus. Instead, every student elected to take his tools home and accept personal responsibility for their return. Almost nothing was lost.

I evaluated the progress of trainees at the end of each training day, and they were consistently ahead of schedule. One would have thought they were being paid on a piecework basis, but in actuality they received no compensation other than personal safety equipment and work clothes.

For a brief slide show of the training, click here. (10 megabyte PowerPoint download).

Contractors interested in bidding under this deconstruction program were required to attend a TRP two-day deconstruction workshop, which covered the community, environmental and bottom-line benefits of deconstruction and surveyed the types of materials that can generally be salvaged (appliances, bricks, cabinets, doors windows, lumber, etc.) as opposed to recycled or disposed of. Participating contractors toured potential deconstruction sites and were shown estimating and bidding techniques. Each contractor hired to deconstruct abandoned buildings through this program is required to hire at least two graduates from the worker training program.

Using stimulus fundsUsing stimulus money to deconstruct abandoned homes and clear blighted neighborhoods has one major drawback: Once the monies are expended, most cities revert back to traditional demolition. In other words, the switch is temporary and nobody has been converted. I don't condemn cities for the lapse. Demolition is simply cheaper and more expedient, and government (taxpayer) dollars must be managed in a fiscally responsible manner.

However, when entities within a political subdivision collaborate, smaller amounts of money can be assembled to promote deconstruction on an ongoing basis. Many stakeholders have roles to play in removing abandoned buildings through deconstruction: banks, police and fire departments, building departments, correctional agencies, neighborhoods, employment development agencies, used building-materials distributors, woodworkers and contractors, to name a few. All it takes is some political will and a readiness to share the credit. If you need more convincing, please call me.

2011 Reuse Contest
Entries to the 2011 ReUse Contest are now closed. Watch upcoming eLetters for an announcement of this year’s winners.

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