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SAN ANTONIO — A new center that will store and distribute weathered wood and old doors, windows, plumbing and light fixtures to be reused, rather than thrown away, is open for business.

The Material Innovation Center is the “last stop before landfill” — a storage and research hub to support “the local circular economy for building materials and affordable housing and production,” officials said.

“Think of it as organ donation,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a launch event. “Like an organ donor, a building may have reached the end of its life, but its parts and pieces will help extend the life of dozens of other buildings.”

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Port San Antonio Historic Bungalow ColonyComprised of 15 structures that once housed Kelly Air Force Base Commanders and other historic 1920s buildings, will be the city’s base of operations for building materials reuse at the 1900 Aerospace and Technology Campus acres on the southwest side.

The city council passed a deconstruction ordinance in September requiring contractors to salvage reusable items from razed homes, beginning with city-ordered demolitions, usually for unsafe structures. In addition to saving landfill space and costs, the program aims to salvage materials for secondary suites and other affordable housing. Officials also hope to reduce potentially harmful airborne particles from traditional teardowns.

Shanon Miller, director of the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, said her staff wrestle with two key issues when considering deconstruction, starting with workforce training. The city has so far trained 40 contractors to dismantle structures for material recovery. A 1920s garage that will serve as a center for innovation is the answer to the second question – “a place for hardware that the market wouldn’t immediately take,” she said.

The city still supports retail outlets such as Pickers Paradise and Habitat for Humanity ReStore that resell materials, but hopes to increase the volume of reused materials. Although the center will primarily store items from projects mandated under the deconstruction ordinance, it already has materials in stock that could be donated, by appointment and free of charge, to partner city contractors on affordable housing projects.

“Going forward, if any of the materials we have can be used in an active affordable housing project, we will absolutely make it available,” Miller said.

More than 500 buildings are demolished each year in San Antonio — a 68% increase over the past decade, resulting in $16 million worth of building materials being lost to landfills, according to the city. The goal for the program’s first year is to divert at least 50 demolitions and 2,800 tons of salvaged materials, valued at $350,000. The new rules began Oct. 1 on city-ordered demolitions, which account for 3% of demolition permits.

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The city will expand the program to cover some homes built in 1920 or earlier, as well as others built in 1945 or earlier that are designated landmarks. In 2025, it will add taller residential buildings built in 1945 or earlier and residential structures built in 1960 or earlier if they are landmarks. The final phase is expected to cover approximately 40% of demolition permits in San Antonio.

There are also plans for a community tool library, open to local residents, to operate in one of the single storey houses. Miller said the city is working on the details of the library and is applying for grants to purchase tools used in deconstruction, such as hand-held pneumatic detachers.

“These will be things that probably go beyond hammers and screwdrivers that people don’t tend to have on their own, and they just need to borrow temporarily,” she said.

For more information, contact [email protected]

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