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Youngstown council to weigh plan to hire YSU student

Published: Sat, November 7, 2009 @ 12:06 a.m.

By David Skolnick

YOUNGSTOWN — City administrators want to pay $39,000 to a college senior, with 10 months’ experience as an intern in Youngstown’s planning department, to develop and implement a plan to “deconstruct” dilapidated houses rather than just demolish them.

The city received a $39,000 grant from the state Environmental Protection Agency for the program. Steve Novotny, the 24-year-old Youngstown State University student to be hired as an independent contractor, wrote the successful grant application.

Rather than using a wrecking ball to demolish a house, deconstruction is a technique to systematically take apart a structure by removing portions of it — such as wooden floors, copper piping or chunks of bricks — that are salvaged and then sold.

Hiring Novotny, a sociology major who’s to graduate in the spring, was on Thursday’s Youngstown Board of Control meeting agenda but was pulled because board members wanted city council to first give the go-ahead to the proposal.

Council is to consider that legislation at its Nov. 18 meeting, said Bill D’Avignon, director of the city’s community development agency that oversees the planning department. D’Avignon submitted the request to the board of control to hire Novotny.

When asked about Novotny’s experience, D’Avignon said the YSU student wrote the grant, has worked for the city through an internship for the past 10 months with a focus on deconstruction and helped to deconstruct a house on Brentwood Avenue, one of two vacant structures taken down this summer using that process. The other house was on Illinois Avenue.

“What [more] experience do you need?” D’Avignon asked. “He wrote the grant.”

Finance Director David Bozanich, a board of control member, also defended the plan to hire Novotny, saying he has experience and deserves a chance to prove himself.

Novotny said he has “a very broad knowledge” of deconstruction, focusing on it during his internship. He said he’s consulted with national experts in the field, talked with officials in cities including Cleveland and Buffalo, where the concept is being used, and examined case studies on the subject.

“I’ve gone through 10 months making the necessary contacts and doing the work and talking with the demolition guys as to what works,” Novotny said. “Quite frankly, it’s a new industry. I don’t know of anyone else who’s done what I have done.”

The deconstruction method takes more time than a regular demolition — about three to seven days rather than a day or two — and is about $2,000 more expensive than a regular demolition, which costs about $3,500, D’Avignon said. The reason is more care is needed to take down a house through deconstruction, he said.

The concept includes selling the usable materials, which it is hoped covers the additional costs and diverts those items from landfills, D’Avignon said.

The goal is to make deconstruction a viable option when vacant structures are taken down, D’Avignon said.

Finding buyers for the items removed from the two houses has been challenging, said Anthony Brucoli, director of US Green Building Materials, a Youngstown company that took down the two structures through deconstruction this past summer.

Some bricks and wood from the houses were sold, and Brucoli said he’s spending the winter working on a marketing plan to sell the materials.

“There is a market for some of these items,” Novotny said. “There is absolutely a local market for this.”

Novotny said finding that market is part of what he’ll be doing once he’s selected to develop the city’s deconstruction program.

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