Youth Find New Uses
For Old Building Fixtures

OAKLAND, Calif. -- They knew exactly what they were looking for as they swooped through the abandoned navy warehouse in California's Bay Area in search of pipes, lumber, electrical wiring and any other fixtures of value.

By the time the young raiders were finished, only the shell of the building was standing. And that was just fine with the building's owner, the Port of Oakland.

In fact, the port authority is inviting the group back to do the same thing to two more huge warehouses on the 422-acre Oakland naval base.

The young building strippers are members of the Oakland-based Youth Employment Partnership's (YEP) deconstruction initiative. Also known as "soft demolition," deconstruction is the process of carefully dismantling a soon-to-be-demolished building and recovering building materials such as lumber and sprinkler heads for reuse.

Rebecca Gebhart, YEP's director of public relations, says along with basic construction skills, the deconstruction program teaches participants, most of whom haven't completed high school, general skills such as conflict resolution, communication skills and money management. All participants must also become state-certified in lead abatement and they work to develop good workplace habits, such as punctuality, positive attitude and regular attendance.

The material rewards are also substantial, says Michele Clark-Clough, executive director of YEP. "Aged and salvaged wood, once carefully taken down and stripped of nails, makes excellent material for flooring or paneling. The buildings involved in the current deconstruction project were built in the 1940s. You can't buy redwood like this any more. It's so bright and clear."

Other communities faced with the federally-mandated closure of navy and other military bases nationwide, have contacted YEP administrators to find out more about its soft demolition initiative.

Deconstruction also helps communities meet increasingly stringent federal and state legislation aimed at reducing landfill use. "Here in Alameda County, for instance, there is legislation that there be a decrease of 75 percent of material going into landfills by the year 2000," Gebhart said.

The recently-completed pilot project, a collaboration among YEP, the Port of Oakland and other local groups, will produce more than 750,000 board feet of lumber, including prime Douglas fir and old growth redwood. YEP is anticipating more than $100,000 in sales from its pilot project, which will go to pay for upcoming deconstruction projects. The Port of Oakland provides a staging area for salvaged material until it can be sold.

YEP's deconstruction projects must adhere to the same OSHA and other safety and environmental regulations as other construction and deconstruction concerns, Gebhart said.

Dennis Smith, YEP's director of training, says deconstruction trainees receive a $6 per hour job training stipend and can earn a 50 cent per hour raise every three weeks. "This training program prepares youth to work in the deconstruction field, where the prevailing wage in the Bay Area is between $9 and $26 per hour."

Adds Smith, "We are currently negotiating with the local labor union to make this a pre-apprenticeship program, which will give our youth access to union apprenticeship after they graduate."

Other Stories in this Feature Include:
  • Employers Find 'Green' Buildings Can Boost Worker Productivity
  • Internet Creates Market For Many Recycled Goods
  • Carpet Company Finds Way to Stop Walking Over Environment
  • Voters Approved Majority of '96 Environmental Initiatives
  • Green Guerrillas Discover Ways to Raise Food in NYC
  • [ Return to the Cover Story Index ]

    Posted October 22, 1997
    Copyright © American News Service

    [ Return to the News ]