Deconstruction-company founder fills a vacancy and goes green
By GRACE WYLER
When the economy began its steep slide into recession in 2008, construction businessman Anthony Brucoli did not bail on the hard-hit industry. Instead, he changed his work to match the times.
Rather than continue to build houses, Brucoli decided to start taking them apart.
Mindful of the large number of vacant homes in Youngstown, Brucoli saw a need for a company that could take the building down without letting the materials in the old, and often historic, homes go to waste.
“There is a lot of materials that went into these houses. There is a lot of embodied energy,” Brucoli said. “Throwing all of this stuff away is pretty sinful.”
So with funding from friends and concerned citizens anxious to see urban blight removed from Youngstown’s neighborhoods, Brucoli founded US Green Building Materials. It is believed to be the Mahoning Valley’s first deconstruction company.
Using a method that has been successful in other shrinking Midwest cities such as Cleveland and Detroit, US Green Building Materials uses crews of young construction workers to systematically dismantle abandoned homes.
The material reclaimed from the buildings — usually about 65 percent of each structure, Brucoli said — is then re-purposed and sold to buyers looking for recycled materials.
Brucoli — along with fellow Youngstown natives Tom McClure, the company’s chief operating officer, and Nancy Brill, who manages sales and marketing — have set up shop in the former City Asphalt & Paving building on Gibson Street, which the owner has leased rent-free until the company gets on its feet. The trio is working on a volunteer basis until US Green Building Materials can achieve profitability.
“We didn’t want to just sit around and wait until things got better,” Brill said. “We wanted to do something to help the community.”
Future profitability remains likely, McClure said, as US Green Building Materials meets the growing demand for urban blight removal. To date, US Green Building Materials has deconstructed eight houses in the Valley. The company recently received contracts from the city of Youngstown to complete nine additional deconstructions this year.
“We have our hands full with Youngstown,” McClure said. “As this develops, we are hoping to have more than one crew going at different houses around the city.”
He added that US Green Building Materials has been well-received in the neighborhoods where it has worked.
“It is kind of nice to get back in the old neighborhoods,” he said. “The people down here want to be supportive of us and have a community.”
US Green Building Materials has “taken a challenge and are turning it into an opportunity,” said Steve Novotny, who has been appointed to oversee the city’s deconstruction program. The company, he said, has been instrumental in helping the city establish a “self-sustaining blight removal mechanism,” he added.
“They are kind of ahead of the curve,” Novotny said. “A lot of the distribution channels for these materials are just now starting to develop.”
Although a deconstruction project is typically more expensive than a conventional demolition because of increased labor costs, Brucoli argues that the deconstruction process has several environmental and social benefits that outweigh the price difference.
By recycling the materials from old homes, deconstruction reduces the consumption of new resources and minimizes the landfill waste produced by conventional demolition, he said, adding that deconstruction supports local work-force development efforts by creating “green” construction jobs.
US Green Building Materials employs graduates from the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Youth Build program, a community development initiative that provides education and job training to local young adults.
The goal now is to establish an efficient deconstruction process and develop markets for the materials to offset the cost difference between deconstruction and conventional demolition, Brucoli said.
“People are realizing that this service is good and desirable,” Brucoli said. “And of course, all of the citizens would like to see the blight removed.”