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OPINION: Deconstruct Old Perry Hall, Don't Demolish

The deconstruction of older buildings, in place of demolition, reduces waste and creates good jobs.

In many older, more established communities like Perry Hall, infill development is correctly seen as a preferred alternative to the use of any remaining "greenfield" tracts for new projects. This approach relies upon the principle of smart growth: concentrating residential and commercial growth in compact, town-center environments, in order to avoid wasteful sprawl. However, in order to effectively redevelop older properties, something must be done with the existing commercial or residential structures that might already be there.

Generally speaking, when a developer acquires an existing commercial site—like the site of the old BP Gasoline Station on Belair Road across from Perry Hall Marketplace—the first thing that happens is the demolition of any obsolete buildings present on the property. Unfortunately, this wholesale leveling of buildings has a dire consequence, namely, the creation of massive amounts of waste.

A 2008 report by Building Magazine estimated that roughly 140 million tons of construction and demolition waste ends up in our nation's landfills each year. This represents about 30 percent of all landfill collections, making construction waste the number one contributor to landfill volumes. This massive amount of waste material should come as no surprise, given that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 300,000 buildings are taken down each year.

Thankfully, there is a sensible option which can reduce the amount of construction waste generated in this country. Rather than simply bulldozing an old building and hauling off the debris, developers can opt to have the old building deconstructed. In basic terms, deconstruction is the careful and systematic dismantling of a building structure to maximize the recovery of valuable building materials. Deconstruction is an environmentally friendly alternative to demolition, directing large quantities of debris away from landfills.

Deconstruction can be used for residential, commercial, or older buildings that might contain historic design elements. In particular, deconstruction offers great potential for the removal of blighted properties. For example, there are literally thousands of vacant rowhomes in Baltimore City that, while in various stages of disrepair, still contain valuable, reuseable components. Carved wooden mantlepieces, marble front steps, historic windows and frames, and even floor joists and roof beams all can be reused, so long as they are removed carefully. 

Perhaps the best part of this process is how it impacts job creation. Deconstruction creates more employment and training opportunities for low-skilled workers than does demolition. This brings jobs and career opportunities into the community, which stimulates the local economy. It has been estimated that for every landfill job created, resource recovery creates 10 jobs. 

As the economy continues to slowly improve, there will most certainly be new development projects, many of them using existing sites. A clear example of a project that could benefit from deconstruction would be the old Surf City Bar and Grille. Whoever decides to lease this site and try to start a new restaurant will most certainly need to do some level of demolition and rebuilding. Imagine all of the reusable woodwork, cabinetry, old windows and doors, and other materials that could be targeted for reuse from just this site. By employing deconstruction, we support sustainability, both for the environment and for our local economy.

Gary Staab October 01, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Are there any resources available to those of us who want to save an old structure? Anybody know?? Thanks
Jeffrey Carroll October 01, 2012 at 03:45 PM
One great resource is DETAILS, a nonprofit deconstruction company that provides positive social and environmental impact while creating financial/tax incentives for the owner of the building being deconstructed. Glad to provide more information.
Pete R. October 01, 2012 at 10:25 PM
What I seem to hear in some comments is as long as it is someone's else's money gee lets preserve that old rotten building. Look at all the empty stores in strip malls our economy is still in the tank I have an idea lets preserve our tax dollars and use them wiser lets stop investing money in worthless causes. Folks who really have a desire to save some old dilapidated structure you give your time and money. The county and the State of Maryland have gotten their fair share from us. And they put it in the General Fund so there is no accountability for needless expenditures such as this one.
Gary Staab October 01, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Pete, My concern is preserving and saving the history of our community. I could give a rats butt about getting state and or federal assistance. The resources I was refering to was about the physical deconstruction and moving of a historic building since I have no experience in that field. After rereading my question, I can see where YOU would JUMP to that conclusion. I guess I should have been more clear with my question and it's wording. I was not looking for financial help. I fully intend to pay for the removal and rehab of the building I spoke of.
Gary Staab October 03, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Mr. Carroll, Can you give me more info on DETAILS. I searched it and got no results. Thanks, Gary

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