Demolition program is a ‘jobs engine’

DAYTON — That dilapidated, abandoned century-old house on the corner doesn’t look like much, but deep inside is hidden treasure.

Dense, old-growth lumber prized by architects and custom builders supports the roof, limestone blocks are at the foundation, and there are cabinets, solid doors, oak floorboards, beautiful fireplace mantles, even a spirit or two.

Salvaging and selling the bounty for the past two years has been the mission of Dayton Works Plus, a partnership of East End Community Services, PowerNet of Dayton and the Architectural Reuse Co.

The materials have wound up in new homes and garages, landscaping and as period architectural highlights at Jimmie’s Ladder 11, the new tavern restaurant at 936 Brown St. A container of framing timber made its way to wood-starved Japan, the buyer saying he would take any and all future product.

Earlier this month, the program won a national Building Community Innovation Award from food service company ARAMARK.

Using $1.5 million in federal funds awarded through both Dayton and Montgomery County, the partnership has trained 50 entry-level workers and ex-offenders in skills such as asbestos abatement, kept tons of debris out of the landfill, and prepared city lots for redevelopment.

Now that federal stimulus funding has dried up, the partnership is looking for new opportunities as thousands of abandoned homes are slated for demolition in Dayton and nearby communities, said James B. Kent, a designer and builder who supervises the salvage. He said the partnership effort ranks as one of the largest of its kind in the country.

The work has dismantled 165 houses in 2 1/2 years, preparing 75 percent of the material from each house for reuse. Kent figures that it has processed 80,000 board feet of timber, 94 tons of metal, 800 doors and windows, and more tons than can be easily counted of brick and stone.

Much of the salvaged material goes to the Community Store of St. Vincent de Paul, and its Deconstruction Depot on Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, for sale to homebuilders and others.

Now, Kent is eyeing the estimated 15,000 vacant structures in the city of Dayton and potential to salvage some that contain valuable historic building materials. He’d like the city, and others around the country, to commit to recycling at least some percentage of the debris from demolished homes to keep it out of landfills and spawn architectural reuse industries. Real estate owners can claim sizeable tax credits for allowing the salvage.

By Kent’s estimate, up to 1 million tons of debris is generated with every 7,500 abandoned homes that are torn down.

“We are creating jobs, we are deconstructing houses and reconstructing lives,” Kent said. “We have individuals with little or no work history who have graduated from our program and gone to other local companies with higher paying jobs and benefits. It has been a win for all.”

Workers dismantling a century-old house at 167 Church St. can testify to the remarkable items hidden in old houses. Kevin Pottenger and Charles Jones compare finds taken from behind walls and old floorboards: a 1934 postage stamp, old patent medicine bottles, and a Dayton Peanut Butter Company can. But demolition worker Greg Longhway, 41, has a story he relishes that beats them.

After former residents of one home being torn down near Fifth Street stopped by and told a tale of its haunting by a “spirit boy” bouncing a ball, Longhway said he found a funeral home obituary stuffed beside a rafter. It was for a 4-year-old who died in 1927. “You should have seen their faces when I handed them the obit,” Longhway said.

Jan Lepore-Jentleson, executive director of East End Community Services, said the project grew from a desire to create jobs for the disadvantaged during tough economic times.

“We accomplished our objective of training a lot of people and offering them a job they wouldn’t have access to,” she said. “We helped to turn a liability for our community into an asset, a jobs engine.”

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