Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Deconstruction Delayed Through 2020

Officials hope to build contractor capacity in program focused on jobs and environment.

By - Jan 14th, 2020 02:09 pm
A crew member from Spencer Renovation & Construction demonstrates deconstruction work. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A crew member from Spencer Renovation & Construction demonstrates deconstruction work. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee officials continue to push the pause button on an ordinance requiring that homes built before 1930 be deconstructed instead of mechanically demolished when razed.

The ordinance, championed by council members Robert Bauman and Nik Kovac, was first passed in late 2017 with a focus on creating jobs for low-skilled workers, salvaging materials, including hard-to-find old-growth lumber and diverting up to 85 percent of the structure from the landfill. It applies to both private and city-owned homes with one to four units.

But the city has struggled to find contractors that can perform the work consistently and affordably, preventing a market for the materials from forming and driving costs higher. The Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) reported that bids for city work were coming in at approximately $60,000 per property, double what was expected. That led the Common Council to approve a one-year stay on the requirement in January 2019.

Tuesday morning the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee voted unanimously to extend the moratorium through March 1st, 2021.

“We are extending the stay of the deconstruction ordinance for one more year to allow the department to develop capacity,” said Bauman regarding the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS).

A companion file, unanimously sponsored by the committee, will create a formal training process for firms performing deconstruction.

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs said a formal training program would replace informal discussions that have taken place to date.

“The difficult aspect of this work is more the business end,” said DNS operations director Thomas G. Mishefske. He told the commission that training would deal with compliance with city programs, including the Resident Preference Program and Small Business Enterprise contracting requirements, as well as insurance and bonding requirements. “There are a number of challenges there that trainings can deal with,” said Mishefske.

The challenges came to light in October when the city was trying to get Spencer Renovation & Construction working on a $1.2 million, 50-property deconstruction effort originally announced in April. “We were fooling around all summer shuffling paper,” said Bauman of DNS and other city departments.

By November things were working for Spencer, and the city held a press conference highlighting the work his firm was doing.

DNS will work with Office of Small Business Development Director Nikki Purvis to invite past applicants and other potential bidders to training sessions. An information session is planned for the end of February.

The hope by Bauman and others is that Spencer and others will lower their bids through competition as the value of materials goes up, offsetting the labor cost from doing the work manually. Billy Spencer estimated that the N. 6th St. house, featured in the press conference, would yield between $5,000 to $15,000 in revenue.

But a true marketplace still needs to be created. Spencer is selling materials directly from the job site to contractors he’s connected with, but other materials are going into storage at a city-owned yard.

With or without the requirement, a handful of private developers continue to favor deconstruction over a wrecking ball or battering ram. Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton pledged to deconstruct an 1860s duplex for his proposed apartment building. New Land Enterprises, through contractor Recyclean, has deconstructed a number of buildings to create its project sites.

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Related Legislation: File 191344

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: City Deconstruction Delayed Through 2020”

  1. Billlau says:

    Is that old wood contaminated with lead dust? How do they clean that up before resale?

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