The benefits of deconstruction
By ROBIN FOSTER
Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Sue Lovell takes the podium with Jeff Amengual, director of construction for Boymelgreen Developers, LLC, in the background.
Friday was a green day for Houston. It was the day a developer announced it would let volunteers salvage what they could from a major teardown rather than just raze it and send tons of ruined building materials to the landfill.
As student volunteers from Mount Ida College carried out armloads of wood flooring, high-end office furniture, plumbing fixtures, ceiling tiles and doors from the 1960s era office building at 7703 San Felipe, Lee Schnell, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Harris County, was admiring the planks of tongue-and-groove redwood siding that sheath the 100,000-square-foot low-rise complex.
Habitat NWHC has about two months to salvage what it can, inside and out, for its ReStore before Cherry Demolition comes in to salvage the buildings’ steel framing and concrete parking areas for two more months. After that, Azorim, a Boymelgreen Holdings development company, begins construction of its LEED-certified condominium project.
It’s the type of partnership that City Councilwoman Sue Lovell hopes to see more of in Houston’s future.
“I like cutting-edge things, and this is cutting-edge,” Lovell said.
Azorim’s donation to Habitat for Humanity also includes cash, but the amount was not disclosed at Friday’s kickoff for the deconstruction project. Jeff Amengual, director of construction for Boymelgreen, acknowledged that deconstruction – the hand demolition of buildings in the reverse order of their construction – might be more costly than mechanical demolition, but “it is line with our green philosophy.”
The company’s planned condominiums, which consist of two curvilinear towers with 28 stories each, will be designed by ZCA to meet LEED standards, which were created to reduce the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improve occupant health and well-being. Cost of the project is estimated at $180 million. The 223 units are expected to start at $1 million and average 2,500 square feet.
Habitat for Humanity NWHC has deconstructed homes in Houston and one other commercial project at a local retirement community, but nothing on this scale. This deconstruction project is Houston’s largest, the partners said.
Schnell said the goal is to recycle 75 percent of building materials from the interior and exterior. Habitat has rented storage space to handle the volume of material it will funnel through its ReStore, which is located on state Highway 249 near the intersection of Bammel North. The store is a first stop for many homebuilders and remodelers because its sells building materials at a discount. Many of the items being salvaged, such as cabinets and wood moldings, will be sold almost as soon as they are unloaded from the truck, he said.
Schnell described deconstruction as a win-win situation for everyone. It saves space in local landfills, it recycles building materials and it saves the energy that would be used to recreate those materials, he pointed out.
“Through this project, we believe we can have a positive impact on the environment while generating funds that will assist Habitat NWHC, Azorim and the Houston community,” he said.
Rachael Wright, development director for Habitat NWHC, said the organization will start construction on the first home funded from ReStore proceeds later this year.
Wright said the dozen students who began the deconstruction project Friday were winding up their spring break as part of Habitat’s Intercollegiate Challenge Program. The group planned to attend the rodeo that night and visit Galveston on Saturday before returning home. Earlier in the week, they had been building a Habitat house in Tomball.
“I’m glad to see the world has come to a place where the whole sustainability movement is catching on,” said Will Cribby, one of the students’ advisors helping start the deconstruction.
Wright said other volunteers would take over the project this week. “Our regular volunteers will take over, plus we have groups calling us all the time to help with projects.”
Lovell welcomed Azorim to Houston. This is the global real estate development firm’s first project in Houston. The company is traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and has developments in 14 countries.
Lovell hopes the city of Houston will work to promote similar collaborations in the future.
“I think our role is to create partnerships and then educate people coming in for new building permits or demolition permits that this opportunity exists,” she said. She also plans to ask Parks and Recreation Department personnel to try and salvage plants from the site, if possible.