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ICCC students learn to ‘harvest’ buildings

Former church is first subject of salvage effort

March 9, 2011
By BILL SHEA Messenger staff writer

DUNCOMBE Amber Smith spent part of Tuesday afternoon working on long strips of wood flooring with a machine that looked and sounded a lot like a nail gun.

But each time she placed the tool on a plank and pushed the button, a nail was pushed out of the wood instead of into it.

Smith, of Humboldt, was using the tool as part of a new Iowa Central Community College program in which students learn to take apart buildings and recycle some of their components. Knocking the nails out of what were once the floorboards of the former St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Duncombe was part of the first day's classwork.

A group of 11 students pulled up the flooring from the former church's sanctuary and removed the nails from the boards, which will be reused in another building sometime in the future.

They were learning what's called deconstruction, according to their teacher, Dan Oswald. He's the college's coordinator of deconstruction and energy efficient retrofits.

Oswald said deconstruction is the process of taking apart a building piece by piece and salvaging parts to be used again.

That's different from demolishing a building, which Oswald said amounts to knocking it down and depositing the rubble in a landfill.

Learning deconstruction, he said, is ''real good for anyone going into the construction field.''

''If they can see and understand how the framework comes down, they can understand how it goes up,'' he said.

David Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting in Bellingham, Wash., said deconstruction keeps material out of landfills, yields high quality components to be used in new buildings and creates jobs.

Bennink was hired by the college to help start the new deconstruction program, and he observed the students removing flooring from the former church Tuesday.

According to Bennink, deconstruction companies can compete with the price quotes offered by traditional demolition contractors because they can sell the salvaged materials and they spend less on landfill fees. He added that building owners who donate material to a nonprofit deconstruction outfit, such as the college class, can get a significant tax deduction.

''We like to think we're harvesting the building,'' he said. ''In a lot of the training I do in the Midwest I concentrate on the concept of harvesting the building. I think that resonates a lot with people who live near or are involved in harvesting the food.''

Deconstruction takes longer than traditional demolition, and it requires more people, according to Bennink. He said that one person operating heavy machinery could demolish the church in one day. A full deconstruction effort might take four days and 20 to 25 people, he said.

Oswald said the goal of the current effort is to salvage the former church's floor, subfloor and the beams that hold up the floor.

''You've got to be gentle,'' said student Brady Hartmann, of Webster City. ''You can't tear up what you're trying to salvage.''

Hartmann said he and his classmates were at the church Tuesday to ''test the waters'' as part of the college's first deconstruction class.

''I think it's fun,'' Smith said.

Oswald said deconstruction will be an eight-week course. Students who complete it will get a certificate.

St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church was built in 1909. It was closed in 2008 as part of a countywide consolidation of Catholic churches prompted by a shortage of priests.

Midwest Construction Services, of Fort Dodge, has a contract with the Diocese of Sioux City to demolish the church. The company's owner, Tim Gailey, invited the college class to work there. Gailey said the building has to be down by April 1.

Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or



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