Detroit— James Willer has a simple approach to blight: Re-use before you raze.
So before crews took down an abandoned, 102-year-old house on Hamtramck’s Carpenter Street, members of the WARM Training Center removed wood for use as shelves, trim and floors in other buildings.
The historic wood now provides shelves for pottery bowls and pitchers at the soon-to-open Tea Room in Detroit’s Sugar Hill Clay Gallery. Across the street in the newly renovated Great Lakes Coffee House, not yet opened, wood accent walls saved from the Hamtramck house complement the Midtown café’s exposed brick.
And the home’s hardwood floors grace the interior of Newberry Hall, a newly redeveloped apartment building with 28 units. Zachary and Associates, a Detroit-based development firm that specializes in historic preservation, renovated the former nursing school across the street from the Detroit Medical Center.
“One house has been used for so many different projects,” Willer said.
His center trains people to take apart every beam, plank, brick and piece of flooring from homes and recondition the materials for use elsewhere.
Advocates say the process, known as deconstruction, preserves building material, creates jobs and reduces landfill use.
Groups such as WARM Training Center have tried to tap into millions of dollars in federal funds dedicated to razing thousands of blighted Detroit homes.
But city officials maintain it’s cheaper to demolish than to deconstruct.
“I clearly understand the benefits of doing deconstruction, but our need is so great, and federal funds have timelines. We did not see a group or groups that could take on the volume we had at the price comparable to demolition,” said Karla Henderson, group executive of planning and facilities for the city of Detroit.
Since 2009, the city has had access to about $4 million a year to demolish abandoned buildings.