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Design, Debacle, Demolition, Deconstruction – Fort Monroe’s Building Deconstruction Program
by Ron Pinkoski and Peter VanDyke

In the Beginning…

It had been years getting all the approvals needed to remove the Queen Anne Duplexes. The Queen Annes, affectionately known as the “White Elephants,” were seven duplexes built in the late 1800s that were no longer suitable for use. A Fort Monroe Master Plan, dated 1948, actually listed the buildings as slated for demolition. Structural issues combined with the presence of lead-painted surfaces and asbestos-containing materials made rehabilitation of these historic structures prohibitively expensive for the Army. After every other avenue for saving the buildings (including hauling the buildings off on barges to be restored off site) had been exhausted, Fort Monroe had all the approvals in place to take them down.

Following closely on the heels of the Queen Annes project, a plan for the removal and timely replacement of a number of other buildings on post was being developed. These included many of the wooden, World War II-era “temporary” buildings and the former Commissary. Additionally, Fort Monroe was beginning the process of removing Monroe Apartments, the base housing complex, as part of a base housing improvement initiative. And in the fall of 2003 Hurricane Isabel hit – and damaged a number of additional buildings to the point where they could no longer be used.

Cleaning up after the hurricane generated hundreds of tons of solid waste. Standard demolition of all the buildings on Fort Monroe’s “demo” list had the potential to generate hundreds of tons of construction and demolition (C&D) debris. Aside from being extremely wasteful and demonstrating poor environmental stewardship, dumping a large volume of material in the landfill was counter to a Department of Defense (DoD) Pollution Prevention Measure of Merit (MoM), the “Non-Hazardous Solid Waste Diversion Rate.” The new MoM states:

“By the end of FY2005, ensure the diversion rate for non-hazardous solid waste is greater than 40%, while ensuring integrated non-hazardous solid waste management programs provide an economic benefit when compared with disposal using landfilling and incineration alone.”

Fort Monroe needed an innovative approach to building removal, so the buildings could be removed in the most expedient, environmentally sound and cost-effective way, while adhering to Fort Monroe’s commitment to becoming a “sustainable installation”. Through discussions within the Fort Monroe Directorate of Public Works and Logistics (DPW/L); evaluation of deconstruction programs at other Army installations such as Forts Knox, Campbell and Chaffee; and via internet research, the concept of deconstruction began to gain momentum.

Deconstruction Deconstructed…

Deconstruction is the disassembly of a building for the purposes of recovering components and materials for reuse, salvage and recycling. Ideally, deconstructed materials are first up for re-use with the second option being recycling. Re-use is preferred to recycling because less raw materials and energy are required to make a new final product.

Deconstruction Quick Facts:

  • More than 200,000 buildings in the United States are torn down annually.

  • The military has approximately 80 million square feet, including 8,000 structures, identified as excess and/or obsolete.

  • Construction activities consume 60 percent of the total raw materials used in the U.S. economy.

  • An estimated 136 million tons of building-related C&D debris is generated in the United States per year, of which 92 percent is from renovation and demolition.

  • C&D debris accounts for 30-40 percent of all municipal solid waste streams in the United States.

  • Only 20-30 percent of C&D waste is currently recycled.

There are significant economic, ecologic and social benefits to utilizing deconstruction over conventional demolition. Deconstruction protects the natural environment by reducing raw material consumption. The deconstruction of a typical 2,000 square foot wood-framed building can yield 6,000 board feet of reusable lumber - equivalent to 33 mature trees, or the annual output of ten acres of planted pine. An average American home (approximately 2,000 square feet), if demolished, can produce about 10,000 cubic feet of landfill debris.

The sale of materials salvaged from the buildings and costs recovered for recycling certain commodities like metal and concrete help make the cost of deconstruction competitive with traditional demolition…theoretically. Effectively identifying and estimating what can be salvaged and what must be landfilled is paramount to keeping the square foot cost of deconstruction reasonable. Additionally, salvaged building materials can be resold at lower prices than new materials (or donated), passing a cost savings on to the community.

Labor costs for deconstruction are typically higher than for traditional demolition due to the process being more labor intensive. Conversely, landfill disposal and tipping fees are lower, since considerably less material is disposed of. The demolition of a typical 2,000 square foot building can be expected to produce 127 tons of debris. While disposal fees vary widely across the nation, at 31 dollars per ton (well below the national average) disposal of 127 tons of C&D debris still costs $3,937. With an 80% diversion of waste from the landfill, deconstruction would save about $3150 in disposal costs over demolition. The current standard Army disposal practice of demolition and disposal to landfills can cost $7 to $9 per square foot, an expensive and environmentally wasteful option when you consider the end result.

An additional social benefit discovered as a result of the deconstruction project was creating the opportunity for on-the-job training and personal development. One of Fort Monroe’s deconstruction subcontractors utilized a job training program run through a local non-profit Community Action Partnership program to create employment opportunities and the chance for a number of individuals to learn a trade, develop a skill and achieve self sufficiency. Several workers employed as part of this program were retained by the subcontractor for work on other jobs.

Stumbling out of the Gate…

As a first step, the DPW/L Environmental Division compiled a Deconstruction Guide to help educate other Fort Monroe personnel, contractors and subcontractors to the concept. The guide provided interested parties with an overview of the deconstruction process, related environmental issues, and relevant contract language. The guide also included pictures and data from other deconstruction projects from around the country. But perhaps the most important function of the guide was to provide local and regional point of contact (POC) information on recycling vendors, salvage yards and outlets for deconstructed materials, such as the Peninsula Habitat for Humanity.

A local guidance document was developed and the contract was awarded; everything appeared to be in place for a successful project. Sadly, our initial foray into deconstruction actually did begin with the Queen Annes, a group of buildings containing a large amount of unique material with a high potential for salvage and reuse, including fixtures, decorative woodwork, stained glass windows, ornate staircases, hardwood floors, and rare lumber. The subcontractor, who sold themselves as experts in deconstruction, saw the process more as “raze and sort” than disassembly. An ambiguous scope of work and an extremely tight deadline for removal of the units only compounded the difficulty. As the excavator began tearing at the first building, we realized that this was not what we had visualized or expected.

However, in the midst of the debacle, deconstruction of the buildings actually was occurring. Once the buildings had been transferred to the contractor, an interested party who was building a home nearby received permission from the contractor to remove as much material from the buildings as he wanted, as long as he didn’t interfere with the contractor’s schedule. He salvaged doors, windows, flooring, siding, staircases and trim. The DPW/L pointed to this one-man deconstruction crew as an example of our vision for the deconstruction process.

Finding Our Feet…

By the time work began on the sixth of seven Queen Annes, the contractors and the DPW/L had a similar vision and a better defined scope of work. A meeting between the parties involved was held to revisit the idea of deconstruction and reaffirm Fort Monroe’s expectations. A new subcontractor with bona fide deconstruction experience was brought in to continue the work. A more concentrated effort was undertaken to salvage the more unique and valuable building components. A less compressed schedule allowed more time to be spent on each building.

Ultimately, the Queen Annes deconstruction project was viewed more as a learning experience than a success. However, those involved could see the value in deconstruction and remained committed to making the process work. Several wooden World War II-era barrack buildings were the next set of buildings to be addressed through deconstruction. These buildings, while not as elaborate as the Queen Annes, were better suited to deconstruction. Several of the buildings had been renovated with new windows, doors, paneling, insulation and other materials within the last few years. The buildings were taken apart piece by piece, section by section - deconstructed. Any furniture, window air conditioners, carpet, boilers or furnaces and other nonstructural items were removed. Where required, asbestos removal was completed. Doors, windows and plumbing and electrical fixtures were then removed. Interior walls and flooring were stripped to the framing lumber. Siding and exterior walls were removed to the framing lumber and roofing materials were removed to the joists. Any remaining piping and electrical wiring were removed, and the building frame was taken down top to bottom. The concrete slab or footers were removed and the site was rough-graded. This phase showed tremendous improvement over our initial deconstruction efforts, but there was still room for improvement in the percentage salvaged for reuse versus recycled.

From a deconstruction perspective, a more complex set of buildings both structurally and building materials-wise, were next to be removed. In total, seven buildings ranging from a 21,000-square foot brick building, which had served as a stable, a garage and the Commissary, to several smaller block, stucco and wooden framed buildings were on the list.

The merits of deconstruction were evident. In total, the seven buildings produced nearly 3,500 tons of material and debris. Of that, 2,630 tons was recycled or reused and 864 went to the landfill for a project diversion rate of about 75 percent The bulk of the weight was recycled concrete, brick, asphalt and metals, however over 20 tons (approximately 14,000 board feet) of lumber were salvaged from the buildings. With a little ingenuity just about anything can be re-used. For example, one of the buildings included a large stationary safe. Instead of disposal or selling it for scrap metal prices, it was donated to the State Police. Also, a large set of metal stairs deconstructed from one of the buildings is being used for beach access.

Fort Monroe Deconstruction
Cost Summary

Building Type Year Built Square Footage Costs* % Reused
Wooden Frame 1941 2,239 $6.28 70%
Wooden Frame 1941 4,830 $6.58 65%
Wooden Frame 1941 4,830 $658 68%
Brick on Wooden Frame 1934 20,080 $8.41 76%
Masonry/Hollow Tile 1940 4,247 $8.84 85%
Masonry/Hollow Tile 1935 2,006 $9,35 93%
Masonry/Hollow Tile 1940 3,002 $9.72 95%

*Deconstruction Costs per Square Foot, and do not include removal of asbestos-containing materials or other disposal fees.

During this latest phase, the labor and equipment cost for deconstruction averaged $1.96 more per square foot then the estimated cost for conventional demolition. However, the disposal cost for material generated during conventional demolition (assuming 20 percent of the material was diverted from the landfill versus the 75 percent achieved through deconstruction), would have averaged $1.13 more per square foot than deconstruction.

Keys to “Debuilding”…

Get management buy in – The perception that deconstruction is expensive and time consuming is pervasive. Without a forward-thinking educated decision maker, a deconstruction project might not see the light of day.

Do Your Homework – Gathering as much information as possible on the process, providers of deconstruction services, and outlets for salvaged materials and recycling facilities improves the odds of a successful project.

Educate – Sharing the information gained by doing your homework with management, contractors, coworkers, the public and other interested parties will assist with project planning and may convert some skeptics.

Communicate – Effective communication between the contractor, subcontractors and DPW/L was critically important. Communicating expectations, data requirements and unexpected circumstances is key to avoiding and correcting problems and completing a successful project.

Get the right tool for the job – Find a contractor with actual experience doing deconstruction and established partnerships with C&D recyclers, used building materials establishments and not-for-profit and other organizations that reuse salvaged materials. It will lessen the learning curve and make for more effective project execution.

Measure your success - It is impossible to track success without an accurate diversion rate and actual costs. Identifying metrics and methods of data collection on the front end will lead to a clearer measure of performance.

Spread the word – Promoting lessons learned from deconstruction projects will help expand markets for salvaged materials, create a deconstruction mindset in the industry, reduce the learning curve for others interested in the process, and encourage additional projects.

The Little Fort that Could…

In spite of being over 170 years old and surrounded by water, Fort Monroe is currently experiencing a time of significant change and growth. Through a comprehensive strategic plan, creative land management and “green” design, Fort Monroe will manage that growth in a responsible, cost-effective and sustainable manner. The future includes removal of over 50 one and two-story brick apartment buildings built in the 1950s and replacement with a modern housing complex; removal of a former service station and a number of administrative and storage buildings of various styles and compositions, and replacement with efficient modern buildings; and a commitment to maximize and maintain green space. Deconstruction will continue to play a key role in the renewal of Freedom’s Fortress.

For More Information:

Contact Ron Pinkoski and Peter VanDyke at Fort Monroe: (757) 788-2444


A Guide to Deconstruction, Version 04-01 DPW/L Environmental Division, Fort Monroe, Virginia, January 2004.

Cost Analysis for Building Removal at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. ERDC/CERL SR-01-5, June 2001.

Deconstruction Guide for Military Installations, University of Louisville’s Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services, October 2003.

Memorandum, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environmental Security), 13 May 1998, subject: New DoD Pollution Prevention Measure of Merit.

OSWER Innovations Pilot, Building Deconstruction and Reuse. USEPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response 5101T, September 2002.

Public Works Technical Bulletin 200-1-23, Guidance for the Reduction of Demolition Waste through Reuse and Recycling, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, March 2003.

Public Works Technical Bulletin 420-49-30 Alternatives to Demolition for Facility Reduction, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, February 2000., accessed October 2004.

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