Iowa program preserves the past, creates jobs for today.
To Dan Oswald, an old building is an opportunity to create jobs and make way for new work, while still preserving some of that history. Oswald is the coordinator of the Iowa Central Community College deconstruction program.
The idea is, instead of simply demolishing an old building, a team of workers can "harvest" it: they remove the nails, undo the bolts, and save as much wood as possible to be re-used. Where it might take one worker with heavy machinery a single day to demolish a building, it can take a team of 20 to 25 people four days to deconstruct one.
"It's a great way to create jobs," Oswald said.
Oswald got his start running his own business, Oswald Construction, after attending Iowa Central. He started his new job as coordinator in November 2010.
"Bill McAnally was my instructor, and afterwards we kept in touch," Oswald said. "He called me up and asked me if I was interested in helping to run this new program, and I was."
Oswald had never been trained in deconstruction, but he said the transition was easy for him.
"If you know how to put up a building, you know how to take it down," he said.
He also had never been trained as an educator.
"The only teaching I'd done was to the guys on my crew," Oswald said.
Today, Oswald is one of the two instructors for the class.
"I have Dan Webbe. He's a pretty good guy to work with," he said. Oswald created the class description, figured out the direction to take with the program, and designed the curriculum.
"The course lasts eight weeks," Oswald said. "We generally tear one building down in that time. Since the class isn't for credit, we just go whenever we are ready, including in the summers."
After completing this class, the students receive their certification in lead renovation and asbestos removal, as well as in deconstruction. They will also receive their state safety certification that complies with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"The main goal is to help people get back to work," he said.
Many of his students come from the Rockwell City Correctional Facility.
"That's a minimum security place--people at the end of their sentence who need to be prepared for getting out. It's good to get them outside the walls and doing a real job," he said.
The program also takes on students from the Rabiner Treatment Center.
"Some of our students have never held a job, unless it was selling drugs. We give them that experience of coming in to work on time every day," Oswald said.
"This winter we'll be taking a class from the city of Grand Junction.... We will take unemployed from their community and train them on one building on Main Street, then the city will hire them as contractors to deconstruct some other city-owned properties. So we are not only training them but getting them employment as well," he said.
"Many of these guys have gotten out of prison and went into construction," Oswald said. "Some of them joined the Laborer's Union in Des Moines. You need so many hours of previous work experience to get in, and then you are guaranteed work. We give them good stepping stones.
"I can't imagine coming out of prison in this job climate and trying to find work," he added.
Once the students have saved everything possible from the old building, they are taught how to make furniture from the salvaged pieces, so that they can see the entire process.
"It's not as much work as you might think," he said. "For one thing, we are less particular with what wood we can use."
He indicated a large knot on the surface of his bench.
"We would never use that in traditional woodworking," he said. "But here, it just adds to the character of the piece. This whole bench was made from materials that the Rabiner students got from the old Humane Society building. These bolts were used to hold the rafters together. You can even see the marks where the nails were.
"Big-name manufacturers will take brand new wood and beat on it with chains and stuff--they call it 'distressing' the wood. Then they charge extra for it. We've got the real thing here."
Oswald said they use a sandblaster to take paint and dirt off old wood.
"But sand is too abrasive; if we used that it would dig into the wood and wreck it," he said. "We blast it with soft materials like baking soda or walnut shells instead."
Oswald said the college plans on starting a program doing energy-efficient retrofits to existing homes.
"We're talking about air sealing, better insulation, basically just going in and seeing what can be improved," he said. "We know a lot more about efficiency than we did even 10 years ago."
BY JOE SUTTER, FORT DODGE MESSENGER