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Recycled building materials

Rebuild-it Center builds momentum

December 14, 2005

In the world of the Gorge Rebuild-it Center, a perfect scenario played out last month. It went like this: A local business (which wished to remain anonymous) received some inventory packed with lumber — specifically brand new 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 inch white fir boards.

The packing material, unneeded by the business, would have been fodder for the burn pile, except that David Skakel, director of the Gorge Rebuild-it Center, got wind of it.

Constantly on the lookout for “potential abandoned value” as he puts it, Skakel arranged to remove the unneeded lumber for the business. He brought the 4,200 linear feet of wood to the Rebuild-it Center and stacked it neatly in a pile.

The very next day, a couple from the area came in to do some shopping. They discovered the wood and bought it all immediately for a project they were working on.

For Skakel, it doesn’t get any better than that.

“It was a great deal for everyone involved,” he said. The wood was sold for approximately half the cost of what the couple would have paid at a lumber yard or home improvement store. The business got rid of the packing material hassle-free — and got a tax write-off in the process. And the nonprofit Rebuild-it Center got a cash infusion just as it enters its slow season.

And, of course, there’s the fact that some perfectly good building material got recycled, instead of destroyed — the raison d’etre for the Gorge Rebuild-it Center.

The scenario that played out there recently is a sign of the times at the Rebuild-it Center, which is in its second year at its Heights location, 995 Tucker Road. The center, which offers used building materials at affordable prices, now has three full-time employees besides Skakel. It recently leased more space on its grounds next to Bryant Pipe and Supply for extra storage for its growing inventory. Its office, in a remodeled double-wide trailer that Skakel salvaged from White Salmon, also houses the Rebuild-it Center’s “parent,” the Columbia Gorge Earth Center — and has space to host forums, lectures and films.

It’s all a far cry from where Skakel and the Gorge Rebuild-it Center were two years ago — but it’s been a long and winding road to get here.

“The business is doing okay,” Skakel said. “We have to look at what we’ve done in a short time. Two years ago, it was just me selling pink toilets.” At that time, after losing out on a major grant, Skakel and the center’s board decided to make a go of the center anyway in temporary space donated by Brian Carlstrom at Windance and with a donated truck to transport supplies.

In the spring of 2004, Bob Bryant, owner of Bryant Pipe and Supply, an ardent supporter of the project, offered to fund construction of the pole building now used by the center and rent it affordably.

Since then it’s been a continual uphill march for Skakel, but the center has gained community support among both builders and contractors as well as people looking for affordable supplies for all sorts of home improvement projects.

“We work with a small number of builders and contractors in the area,” Skakel said. “But the ones who get it come here continually and they divert a lot of good, useable stuff here.”

A long-standing goal of the Rebuild-it Center is to establish a “deconstruction” service in order to add to its inventory. Skakel said he will likely implement that in the coming year.

In the meantime, he’s used savings from the summer to purchase salvaged material from outside the area.

“We now feel quite comfortable capturing regional salvage material,” Skakel said. “We’re importing things that would not get donated around here. It diversifies our inventory.” He said he occasionally gets big shipments of core building materials, like windows, doors and insulation.

Awareness of the Rebuild-it Center has spread among the communities up and down the Gorge enough that scenes like the recent lumber windfall are not uncommon.

A couple of months ago Skakel spotted some nice looking railroad ties in the back of a customer’s truck. He inquired about them and learned they came from the site of a train derailment near Mosier. Skakel contacted Union Pacific and, after hiring a subcontractor to remove and transport the ties, salvaged 1,400 of them — all neatly stacked now in the Rebuild-it Center’s newly leased space.

Skakel once again pointed out the multiple benefits of that single scenario: Union Pacific got rid of unusable ties hassle-free; a community member (the subcontractor) got a week-long job; a trailer was rented from Your Rental Center, a local business; good, useable railroad ties are now available at the center for $8 apiece; and a potentially large load headed to the landfill was diverted for re-use.

Despite the seemingly giant steps the Rebuild-it Center has taken since its fledgling beginnings, Skakel still worries about getting through the winter months, when business typically slows down at the center.

“We have higher rent and higher costs heading into the slow season,” Skakel said. “We’ve gotten to a point where donations of material won’t pay for the cost of the business.” Skakel said a local builder has set up a challenge pledge at the center, and will match donations dollar for dollar up to $2,000 through the end of the year.

The Rebuild-it Center also seeks donations through its “alternative gifts” program, where someone can donate to the center as a “gift” in someone’s name and the center will send out a card to the recipient telling them of the gift donation.

Skakel also said volunteers are always needed. The center has had a total of 80 different volunteers during 2005, who have logged more than 800 volunteer hours. He hopes to increase those numbers in 2006.

“We want people to know it’s the slow season but we have a lot to offer,” Skakel said. “We want customers to know that we have larger diversity and more inventory. We want businesses to know that we’re here and how it works. And we want to increase awareness of us in the builder/contractor community.”

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The Gorge Rebuild-it Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the winter. The center can be reached at 387-4387 or online at www.rebuildit.org

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