All in a Day’s Work

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By Scott Boylston

Snow in Savannah. That was the least newsworthy event that took place at the material harvest center this past Saturday. Over 50 volunteers and 10 carpenter apprentices gathered in the large parking lot outside the warehouse to denail materials that were reclaimed from the first phase of the Savannah Gardens redevelopment project. The gung-ho team of merry harvesters included elementary school teachers, architects, IKEA administrators, web designers, contractors, musicians, professors and students from SCAD, Savannah Tech and Armstrong Atlantic State University, preservationists, carpenter apprentices, Girl Scouts administrators, and even the Executive Director of USGBC-Georgia.

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After 8 hours of steady work in some uncommonly cold Savannah weather—yes, snow fell all around us for almost an hour—our amazing crew of hearty (pine) souls denailed 985 heart pine studs, and 884 tongue-and-groove heart pine panels. That outdoes our last denailing event, especially considering the fact that this crew was a little bit smaller than the previous one.

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With a market value of approximately $3 for a single stud, the harvest represents a creation of $3,000 worth of material wealth from a heap of discarded studs, and once the monetary worth of the 884 tongue-and-groove panels can be assessed, the total realized value for the beneficiaries of these materials—like Shuman Elementary School—will easily exceed $5,000. In negating the need for new materials, the harvest also reduces the green house gas emissions of the projects that will follow by approximately 10 metric tons of carbon (we’ll calculate a more precise estimate as soon as we can).

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These are real numbers—small numbers in the big picture of things, perhaps, but real and meaningful steps in the right direction—but the day was about much more than transforming waste into wealth. It was also about transforming our relationships with one another. The 60+ people who gathered together for the day came from all corners of Savannah. The economic, social and cultural diversity of the group made for enlightening conversation, and enriched everyone’s lives in the process. The focus on community collaboration and social innovation is no accident, but instead a core part of Emergent Structure’s mission. As a member of the DESIS network, the Design for Sustainability program at SCAD—a close partner in the Emergent Structures project—is dedicated, in part to reinventing how communities interact with each other, whether community is defined through an industry-based lens or a social one.

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We’re also very proud to have been able to provide (through the generous grant from IKEA’s Port Wentworth Distribution Center), a full day’s worth of paid work  for 12 CAP trainees from StepUp Savannah’s carpenter apprenticeship program. Other partners, other than the forever rambunctious and resourceful Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, of course, included the Savannah branch of the U.S. Green Building Council, Thrive Carry Out Cafe, the Chatham Environmental Forum (CEF), NorSouth Construction, JT Turner, Thomas and Hutton, and Southern Pine Company.

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Plans are already underway for the next material harvests. On Saturday, February 5th, we’ll meet again out at the material harvest center, and in the next few weeks we’ll also be sending an exploratory team into a centuries-old residence in Savannah’s Historic District to assess the quantity of shiplap siding adoring its interior walls (yes, you read that right—barnsiding on the inside of a house…and a lot of it—stay tuned).

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