Just outside of downtown Savannah on Pennsylvania Avenue, volunteer workers from Lightnin’ Construction, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn. used heavy machinery to lift A-frames off the roof of a vacant house, a modest one-story wood-frame built in 1943 to shelter the Liberty Ship builders during World War II. A couple of yards away, a group of SCAD Design for Sustainability graduate students in hard hats and gloves worked on the ground, sorting wood slats, floor boards and fixtures.
On July 23 these volunteers gathered to salvage and donate materials from the demolition to build an eco-friendly Girl Scout camp on Rose Dhu Island near Savannah. The students removed and collected nails from the intermediate boards at workstations. The five-gallon white buckets containing the used nails were a quarter full within three hours.
Across the way, workers carefully tapped mortar off of bricks. A man played a barely audible banjo through the deconstruction noise to boost morale, which hardly seemed necessary, as the students were eager to work—even in near 100-degree summer heat.
“We are reclaiming everything we possibly can, and these nails might become some type of bike rack in a next life or who knows what. Everything that we can use again will be used again,” said Erin Fenley, one of the graduate students.
This hands-on experience is required for their Sustainable Practices and Design Management course, but Fenley, lightly sprinkled with dirt and dust, enjoyed making a difference in the community. The demolition is phase one of a larger redevelopment project led by the City of Savannah to transform the old public housing in Strathmore Estates into Savannah Gardens—an Earth Craft-certified mixed-income housing development.
Trash to Treasure
Scott Boylston, a sustainable and graphics design professor at SCAD (and director of Emergent Structures, an organization that seeks to adaptively reuse reclaimed materials for other urban gardens and other ventures), became involved with this project about a year ago when city officials called upon him and other sustainability experts for advice for how to make the development as green as possible.
“One of the first questions I had was what are you doing with the garbage?” said Boylston, “Because with sustainability one of the primary philosophies is waste equals food. We are the only species on this planet that creates garbage that other organisms can’t eat.”
When he looked at the 210 run-down vacant houses with sagging roofs, dirt yards and neglected paint, Boylston and his students saw an opportunity to diminish waste by reusing every material they could from the structures.
When Nina Smith, property manager for Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, heard about this project last November, it seemed like a perfect fit for what she was trying to achieve. The “waste” of two houses could become materials for her brainchild: a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified eco-camp.
The detailed plans for the eco-camp remain under development, but the new campground will be located on the 300-acre island of Rose Dhu, south of the city where Girl Scout Camp Low currently sits. Its primary function would be to teach Girl Scouts about living green. Smith said she has been planning the project for more than a year, and she connected with Boylston by reaching out to the community for help.
“Everything started snowballing. Everywhere we asked, people got excited about the project and no one said no. Everyone looked for a way to help,” said Smith.
At the end of the weekend, the Sustainable Design students planned to gather 62 A-frame structures for the Girl Scouts. By Sunday only one of the former houses greatly damaged beyond usefulness during the salvage.
The plan calls for these A-frames and other salvaged materials to form the basis of the eco-camp facilities and amenities. The Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia hope to have the camp open and running by 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts America by Savannah native Juliette Gordon Low.
Also present on the work site over the weekend was Savannah City Councilman Larry Stuber. He expressed excitement about the harvest and the progress of the redevelopment. The 43-acre housing site plans to showcase to affordable, eco-friendly living.
“The government can go out and demonstrate these types of things because we have the resources to do it,” Said Councilman Stuber.
One of the most impressive aspects of the new development is the plan for geo-thermal heating. These pipe-based systems use heat differences in the ground water to regulate air temperature. Because Savannah’s summer heat requires air conditioning, this is promising, cost-efficient news for the future residents of Savannah Gardens.
As the weekend ended, Emergent Structure’s blog started to catalogue the amount of material salvage between the two houses: more than 2,400 square feet of reusable wood decking de-nailed, nice oak flooring lying under layers of linoleum and they are still counting the number of intact bricks. An offer for a free nail hunter was the first response to the blog’s post.
For more information about the project please visit Emergent Structures’ website.Contact Anna Geannopoulos.