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
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
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
Deconstruction Quick Facts:
More than 200,000 buildings in the United States are torn down
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.
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
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
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
|Brick on Wooden
*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.
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.
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:
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,
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
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.
www.deconstructioninstitute.com, accessed October 2004.