Pittsburgh to improve communities through deconstruction

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In April, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced a deconstruction program in which blighted properties in the city will be dismantled instead of demolished. The goal of the infrastructure program is to advance equitable living and increase public health in historically black business districts.

“The program’s core function is to provide options for buildings that don’t meet the qualifications for the city’s demolition list,” says Alicia Carberry, the operations assistant for the city. “For buildings that are abandoned, condemned or too expensive to repair, this program will provide solutions.”

Pittsburgh officials aim to remove blight in neighborhoods by deconstructing city-owned properties that are condemned but not slated for demolition. The deconstruction will involve stripping buildings of useful materials to preserve their integrity so that they can be used in other building applications, according to the city.

Buildings that qualify for deconstruction will be determined using multiple forms of examination. Qualifying structures for the program will be identified using metrics from census trackers. Additionally, the program will identify candidates through the city’s Avenues of Hope program, which seeks to invest in existing small businesses and residents, supporting the inclusive growth of these neighborhoods, says Hersh Merenstein, local government coordinator for the city.

The qualifications for the program are still being determined. However, Merenstein says some things the city will look at include the amount of work that needs to be done to repurpose material and the location of the building concerning redlining and income. materials for reuse. Materials like the gypsum in drywall will be repurposed into deicers for the winter months and steel, lumber and masonry will be used for construction projects throughout the city.

“Another goal of this program is to create a comprehensive directory of what vendors or facilities accept [regarding] materials that will be collected from these buildings,” Carberry says. The city may also issue special incentives to companies interested in deconstructing buildings in the city, though it’s unclear what that may involve.

Additional directives for city departments in the executive order include formulating community engagement plans to ensure neighbors understand the process and public benefits of deconstruction. It also specifies the formation of a Deconstruction Action Council comprised of members from various city departments, industries and institutions to study and advocate for the expansion of the policy.

Deconstruction is more expensive than demolition, often equating to three times the cost. However, Merenstein believes that the benefits to the communities involved in the deconstruction program will outweigh its costs. Some of the benefits the program will provide include equity advancement, improved physical and mental health of residents through the reduction of blight, and the ability to reuse land for green space. The program is also expected to create jobs due to the extra time it takes to remove materials from a building, he adds.

“By offering deconstruction, we can seek funding from grant sources previously unavailable to us to help cover its expenses,” Carberry says.

The program will primarily be paid for through the city’s operating budget, Carberry says.

There are about 1,700 buildings across Pittsburgh that are condemned, and the city owns 20 percent of them. Since 2015, the city has spent $12 million on demolition and issued more than double that amount in permits in private contracting, the city says.

Carberry says the city began working on this project with Construction Junction in 2019. The initiative is based on similar programs in other cities such as Baltimore, Seattle and various communities in California.