Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Deconstruction Contractor Delaying Work

City's program beset by delays. The latest is a contractor not showing up for work.

By - Jan 27th, 2020 02:58 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.

The idea behind deconstruction sounds simple. Instead of demolishing homes and sending the remains to a landfill, the city could create jobs, save the environment and possibly save money by having contractors with teams of entry-level employees dissemble or “deconstruct” homes with the materials being sold for reuse, offsetting the increased labor costs.

But the city’s experience is proving the concept anything but simple. A deconstruction ordinance was first approved in late 2017, but the city has now entered year two of a suspension of the requirement that private homeowners deconstruct properties, because high-priced contractor bids have made the program too expensive.

On the public side, the city has hired a private contractor, Spencer Renovation & Construction, to deconstruct 50 properties. After months of delays, described as “logjams with paperwork” by one alderman, that work got underway in November. A press conference with council members Robert Bauman, Milele A. Coggs and Russell W. Stamper, II was held inside the first home Spencer’s crew was deconstructing. Firm president Billy Spencer said his crew would disassemble a house every eight days, yielding up to $15,000 in materials.

But Monday the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) broke the news that Spencer isn’t anywhere close to that pace. His firm has only just started work on its third house.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked Alderman Robert Bauman at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Redevelopment of Abandoned and Foreclosed Homes.

“We can’t seem to get him to keep steadily working,” said DNS operations director Thomas G. Mishefske. He said Spencer has had his team performing privately-contracted work. “He’s not being very responsive to us.”

“A few days can go by with no one even there?” asked Bauman. Yes, said Mishefske.

DNS was scheduled to meet with Spencer on Friday. “He called earlier in the day, but didn’t show up for the meeting,” said DNS supervisor Chris Kraco.

Spencer is storing reclaimed materials at a Department of Public Works yard, and Mishefske said DNS would like to walk through it with him to see what he has in inventory. DNS said the non-profit Community Warehouse is interested in acquiring some of the materials. Spencer has also been selling the materials directly.

“Of course this behavior isn’t unheard of for contractors,” said Bauman of Spencer’s delays. The city, and a host of others in Wisconsin, have had poor experiences with contractors working on bridges delaying the projects to work on better-paying projects. Milwaukee, in response, has increased its penalties for delay.

What about penalties for delay in Spencer’s deal? Mishefske said there aren’t strict penalties, but DNS has divided the up-to $1.2 million contract into quarters. Spencer is scheduled to complete the first quarter and deconstruct 13 homes by April.

Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.

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