Once a Stud, Always a Stud

By Scott Boylston

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Six months ago, the studs that project manager Brian Quigley is marking with the Emergent Structures’ “reclaimed” stamp were still full of nails. Four months before that, they were still holding up roofs in the old buildings on the same site. And 4 months before that, we sat around with Brian of NorSouth Construction to brainstorm innovate re-purposing opportunities for the Savannah Gardens redevelopment. One of his first ideas was something he called studs-to-trusses. The idea of putting old studs into new trusses was born, and as of last week, that concept has been executed, providing a significant milestone for Emergent Structures’ Initiative 2.

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Instead of rotting ever so slowly into a landfill, these studs, first milled to construct housing for shipbuilders 70 years ago, are beginning a second life of sheltering humans, in this case for affordable housing offered by Mercy Housing.

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A total of 900 heart pine studs were harvested, denailed, and then incorporated into trusses (by Truss Mart in Midway, Georgia) for the second and third story flooring of the redevelopment.

Nine hundred sounds like a lot (it is, it is!). Yet, when you relate that quantity to the total number of studs required for all of Phase 1, the percentage of reclaimed materials is not what you’d call huge. But just consider exactly how many contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, inspectors, and other industry workers who have seen this old material in new buildings—most likely for the very first time in their careers—and it gives you a sense of the potential to shift an entire industry’s way of thinking; to alter their perceptions about and attitudes toward what can and can not be done with reclaimed materials.

The impact of such ‘small’ demonstrations can be more powerful than the actual quantity of materials involved. It’s more about a cultural shift; a first peak at a new norm; a new way of conducting business. We like to call such projects SASS projects: Small And Symbolic Sustainability.

We’ve got some SASS. And we’re working on more.

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Another facet of the Phase 1 redevelopment is the use of reclaimed roof decking, comprised of 4′ long tongue and groove heart pine. In the above picture, Brian Quigley and George Perez walk across what will be a common area in the redevelopment, and a close inspection of the foundation reveals a recessed area where the wood flooring will be laid. George Perez, a Furniture Professor at SCAD, has been working with his students in designing early prototypes of outdoor and indoor furniture for the redevelopment.

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There are other examples of reclaimed material applications at Savannah Gardens, and there are other sustainable attributes to the redevelopment that go beyond using reclaimed materials that we’ll blog about at some point, but there’s also—as there always has been with this project—an opportunity to bare witness to the human history of the place.

While we were on site, I had the good fortune to meet Slate Williams, a plumbing contractor on Phase One (above), and we started talking about the reclaimed studs, which led to a conversation about the old shipbuilders housing, which led to a discussion about the people who lived in the old buildings, which led to a discussion about his own father (who, it turns out, lived in those very same buildings soon after the end of World War 2), which led to a discussion of the photographs Slate has of his own father, sitting in front of one of the old buildings, one of which shows Slate, as a child, sitting on his father’s lap.

Savannah is not so big where such a coincidence should be considered too much of a surprise, yet there’s something worth exploring here. Slate’s father has a story or two to tell about the place…and we’ll be seeking out those stories, and sharing them with you when we can.

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