> Click here to return to the Construction Equipment Guide homepage.    This site can also be read in  
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
 
Touch for Navigation


Wood From Torn-Down Detroit Houses Made Into Toys

By: Megha Satyanarayana - DETROIT FREE PRESS

Reclaim Detroit held its first wooden toy-making workshop in August. It was a chance for people such as Schiltz of Ypsilanti and her friend Shannon Tubb of Ann Arbor to turn salvaged wood from one of Detroit’s many old houses into something new.

Reclaim Detroit held its first wooden toy-making workshop in August. It was a chance for people such as Schiltz of Ypsilanti and her friend Shannon Tubb of Ann Arbor to turn salvaged wood from one of Detroit’s many old houses into something new.

DETROIT (AP) As Laura Schiltz began gluing together the wood blocks that would become a toy train, she got a bit of expert advice.

“What I usually do is rub it around. That way, it sticks,” said Robin Scott of Reclaim Detroit and the WARM Training Center.

Reclaim Detroit held its first wooden toy-making workshop in August. It was a chance for people such as Schiltz of Ypsilanti and her friend Shannon Tubb of Ann Arbor to turn salvaged wood from one of Detroit’s many old houses into something new.

But the workshop, and others like it that Reclaim Detroit does on weekends at its warehouse and workspace on Oakman Boulevard, have two broader aims.

The first allows people such as Tubb and Schiltz to make one toy to take home and another to be donated as a Christmas present for a Detroit child. The second allows the women to become part of a sustainable Detroit that deconstructs and repurposes, rather than one that demolishes and dumps.

“We can take a house apart piece by piece, rather than it going into a landfill,” said Chris Rutherford, director of Reclaim Detroit.

Reclaim Detroit started a little more than a year ago as a job-creation project of WARM Training Center in Detroit. About 50 trainees in construction have learned the other side of the trade — deconstruction — and are sent to houses to take apart the wood, among other things. Some houses have been in Detroit; others have been in places such as Hamtramck and Franklin.

The wood is cleaned up, stored at the group’s warehouse and resold.


Deconstruction is a slower process than demolition, taking about a week rather than a day or two, but it costs about the same and puts more people to work for a longer stretch, said Rutherford.

So far, six houses meeting the criteria of being built before the 1940s, not gutted by fire and not presenting an environmental hazard, have been taken apart as Rutherford and James Willer, also of Reclaim Detroit, among others, try to expand the wood reclamation industry in Detroit from relative scratch.

The men estimate that 10 percent to 20 percent of the unoccupied houses in Detroit could be deconstructed.

“The quality of lumber after that is not that great,” said Willer.

And there is no shortage of potential work.

A pending Wayne County tax foreclosure auction presents several opportunities for reclamation. And, with Detroit city officials aiming to take thousands of houses down, Rutherford and Willer say they believe deconstruction should be as much a part of the city’s plan as demolition.

But the city hasn’t quite cottoned on, said Willer.

“There’s a false sense of urgency,” said Willer, as the city wants a house that’s been empty for 10 years gone in one or two days. The demolition process creates an empty lot with bits of rubble that is hard to maintain; deconstruction, he said, leaves the land a bit more manageable.

So far, people have learned to build planters, garden benches, bat houses and bird houses. Window flower boxes are next.

And while the mission of Reclaim Detroit and the toy-making workshop resonate with Shannon Tubb, the act of building allows her to feel like the craftsman her father was. “My favorite toys, a lot of them, he had made,” she said.