Buildings Recycled, Business Emerges
by JOE FITZGIBBON
Traditionally, a fifth anniversary celebration calls for a gift of wood. But if you are the ReBuilding Center, that also includes metal, brick, marble and tile.
Located at North Mississippi Avenue and Fremont Street, the huge warehouse of used and low-cost building materials will mark its five years of operations with a community party from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. In additional to a giant sale, the nonprofit organization will offer free remodeling demonstrations, a recycled-art show, games, food and refreshments.
The ReBuilding Center opened on a small lot in Northwest Portland in 1997 as a project of Our United Villages, a volunteer group that wanted to divert reusable construction materials from area landfills. Members began by calling friends, contractors and developers, offering to pick up unwanted items and equipment.
Within a year, the volume of donations doubled, then tripled. So did the number of customers looking for bargains. The center moved to North Portland.
"We realized quickly that we had to find a larger space — preferably something permanent — but we were pretty low on funds," said Shane Endicott, co-founder and executive director. "So, one of our board members let us max out his credit card and we moved over here."
Within a month, Endicott said, the ReBuilding Center was operating in the black. Today, the organization employs 50 workers, mostly Boise neighborhood residents, and, with the assistance of about 500 part-time volunteers, recycles about 3,000 tons of materials each year.
"Four other centers have tried something like this but without much luck," Endicott added. "We've succeeded because our philosophy isn't so much about making a profit as it is in keeping as much material out of landfills as possible, while reinvesting our funds into providing livable wages for our employees."
In addition to its scavenger-hunt atmosphere, the center fields several teams of deconstructionists, trained six-member crews that disassemble vintage homes and commercial structures in the Portland area from roof joists to floor boards. About 80 percent of salvaged materials are resold at the center.
Crew chief Andre Burgoyne said he was bored working as a graphic designer when he joined one of the deconstruction crews.
"The best part of the job is seeing the way people are changing their minds about using materials from old homes," Burgoyne said. "It's awesome knowing that instead of destroying a house with all that craftsmanship, we can help it find new life somewhere else."
Today, the center is a home remodeler's paradise. Doors, window frames and appliances are stacked alongside bins of plumbing supplies, electrical fixtures and bathroom accessories. Rows of theater seats rest against a giant hot tub, while stacks of lumber from a gymnasium floor butt up against an assortment of sinks, church pews and water fountains.
Each day, dozens of trucks and vans pull up with donated materials from residential and commercial buildings. Customers expecting a high-pressure sales force are surprised to find staff members wandering through the stacks offering free advice. Visitors are encouraged to stroll through the small demonstration center and borrow from the stacks of do-it-yourself books.
The ReBuilding Center recently launched a $1.5 million campaign to cover its open lots and expand to a vacant lot next door. The new structure will not only double the inventory of homebuilding items but also include a community gathering place for the neighborhood. Organizers said it will add 25 to 30 jobs on site.
With more than half the funds raised through donations and grants, Endicott said he expects remodeling to start by February.
"Ideally, we're going to use as many recycled materials as we can," he said. "One of our goals is to demonstrate for people that something they might be thinking about throwing away could benefit others."
The ReBuilding Center is at 3625 N. Mississippi Ave.
For more information, call 503-331-1877