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Saint John throwing away ‘millions’ through demolition instead of deconstruction, former heritage planner says

Former heritage officer in Saint John believes city throwing away millions of dollors
WATCH: The former officer says city is wasting money when it demolishes old buildings. As Tim Roszell reports, he believes money is to be made in salvaging reusable material.

A former heritage officer in Saint John believes the city is throwing away millions of dollars when it demolishes old buildings.

Jim Bezanson, a heritage development officer with the City of Saint John for 24 years, also believes there is money to be made in salvaging reusable material.

Bezanson spoke at a forum on demolition, deconstruction and salvage, presented by Heritage Saint John.

READ MORE: Councillor believes ‘needless delay’ holding up demolition of Fundy Line Motel

Citing a 2018 report on building debris in the city, and what to do with it, Bezanson said deconstruction rather than demolition is beneficial in a number of ways.

He said up to 95 per cent of construction materials in many buildings can be recycled, but is thrown away in most cases.

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“We have public policies that encourage people to buy a beverage bottle, consume the product, wash it, take it back to the redemption centre and accept half what what they paid for (in deposit) initially,” he began. “We have no such policy for buildings, which are usually the biggest, largest, most important financial investment of anybody’s lifetime.”

Bezanson admits deconstruction can take longer than demolition, but he said it can create jobs for people who need them. Those people, now employed, could conceivably purchase homes already knowing how to maintain them.

Olive Hawkins, the co-founder of The Beet Collective, an organization focused on creating sustainable housing, said recycling and salvaging materials can happen with any property.

“We’re talking lots (in the forum) about the heritage-designated houses,” Hawkins said. “But we believe all spaces, not just those designated heritage, but all spaces can be redeemed and brought back and made into healthy homes for people.”

WATCH: Buildings at the former Canadian Coast guard are being demolished

Buildings at the former Canadian Coast guard are being demolished
Buildings at the former Canadian Coast guard are being demolished

Bezanson said he has deconstructed two buildings in Saint John, and sent about 45 tons of materials to landfill sites. But he says by salvaging and reusing everything from bricks and windows to floor joists, he figures he’s saved almost 500 tons from ending up in the garbage.

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And he said he made money on both projects.

“I would say, conservatively, that I recouped out of each of those buildings, $100,000 in returns,” Bezanson claimed.

Bezanson pointed to the recent demolition of the second building at the former Coast Guard site in uptown Saint John as another opportunity lost.

He said the bricks alone would have been worth up to $1 million if re-purposed, instead of being trucked away for good.

“When the City issues public tenders for demolition work, contractors are awarded the work based on a competitive bidding process,” said Lisa Caissie, spokesperson for the City of Saint John, in an email late Thursday.

“The decision to recycle materials from any demolition site is made at the discretion of the contractor. The estimated value of recyclable or salvageable materials from any demolition project could be reflected in the bid price from the contractor. For example, if a contractor estimates the value of salvageable material to be high, their bid on a tender may be lower than those who do not consider it in their bid calculation.”