By Megan Hogan
If you’ve bought a home, done DIY projects or needed to recycle something in Pittsburgh in the last 16 years or so, you’ve probably heard of Construction Junction. Located in Pittsburgh’s East End, the building material reuse organization is taking recycling to a whole new level and, at the same time, being a part of the evolution of the city.
“Construction Junction has mirrored the growth of Pittsburgh by expanding and increasing interest in reuse, green building and the arts,” explains Construction Junction Executive Director Mike Gable. He should know: He’s been with Construction Junction since day one, when the Pennsylvania Resources Council helped launch the organization.
The Indianapolis native came to Pittsburgh for graduate school and was at the “right place at the right time and knew the right people” to become a founding director. Since 2001 he’s been partnering national and local organizations and the people within the organization to “constantly be looking at new ways to increase our impact,” he says.
One thing is for sure about the warehouse on Lexington Street: Reuse is so much more than recycling paper and plastic. Here are five ways Construction Junction partners with other non-profits to lead the way when it comes to finding solutions to better the city and the community.
1. Project RE_
Launched in 2014, Project Re_ merges reuse with building, design, skilled workers and visionary thinkers. It’s part of the Urban Design Build Studio and boasts a tagline of “Reuse materials. Rebuild communities. Restore lives.” This programs gives Carnegie Mellon University architecture students the opportunity to design structures such as a utility shed. Then it gives skilled laborers, such as men and woman from the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, the space and opportunity to bring the design to life at Construction Junction.
“About three years ago we decided that we wanted to try to formalize the partnership,” Gable explains.
With the formal partnership, “[The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh] guys are learning to build, the Urban Design Build students are learning to build and the project has evolved to be the three of us working together under the name of ‘Project Re_.’”
“We’re certainly the only building material operation in the country that has an architecture program embedded in it,” Gable says.
The end result is a win for everyone: less waste in landfills, architecture students who have the chance to build with reuse materials before they even graduate and more skilled people in Pittsburgh with the knowledge needed to construct using reuse materials.
“Essentially, we’re doing projects with used materials, the students are designing and building and the guys from the Trade Institute are learning construction skills right alongside the students,” Gable explains.
Inside Project Re_, materials from churches, schools and other buildings throughout Pittsburgh are given new life as part of the rooms inside Project Re_, which is inside Construction Junction.
2. Free Ride
That’s right: The oldest community bike shop in Pittsburgh is under the same roof as Construction Junction. Free Ride is a do-it-yourself recycled bike collective offering programs such as Earn-a-Bike, where participants earn a bike through volunteer hours. The shop inside Construction Junction houses bike parts, tools and training so that participants get a free bike at the end of the program as well as learn the skills needed to keep a bike functioning well.
“Free Ride is in our building and they’ve been here for 10 years, maybe. They’re their own non-profit organization,” Gable explains.
3. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse
Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse caters to the creatively crafty person who wants to be engaged in the community. Located in the same building as Construction Junction, it’s its own store filled with colorful fabrics, paints, buttons, tiles, yarn, beads and other materials for the professional artist and weekend crafter alike.
“We initially gave them a small amount of space for free, and they grew, and now they lease space from us,” Gable says.
With that growth, they’ve been able to launch a slew of their own programs and workshops designed to bring together a community of people who want to craft responsibly and generate the least waste possible.
The Goodwill partnership with Construction Junction demonstrates a positive, non-profit to non-profit quid pro quo. “Goodwill [is a partner] who put a lot of resources into helping us build our capacity,” Gable explains.
“All of our doors and all of our tiles are processed by individuals with disabilities that come from Goodwill. We pay those individuals to work, but Goodwill supports the people onsite who are their supervisors,” he says.
He also notes that “If we didn’t have that kind of partnership, we do not have the expertise or time to meet the needs for those individuals who are currently working for us. It’s extremely helpful to have the support that Goodwill provides us.”
Gable continues, saying, “And when you develop a relationship with an organization like Goodwill that has a lot of different populations with whom they work, we’re able to explore different populations and different opportunities to provide work or work experience for their trainees.”
At the end of the day, Construction Junction gets trained employees and Goodwill gains a trusted partner in ensuring the people in their program are working in environments where they’re respected and productive.
5. Computer Reach
Some people – not all, but some – have a graveyard of old laptops and computers buried in closets and basements. Sometimes it’s hard to let go, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with a seemingly worthless piece of hardware. Computer Reach, another non-profit taking residency at the Construction Junction site, helps solve that problem by refurbishing Apple computers and sending them to third world countries or local Pittsburgh communities in need.
“All their computers are checked and refurbished by volunteers,” Gable says.
The term “reuse” is being defined and redefined by this Pittsburgh-based organization and Gable, along with everyone at Construction Junction, is constantly looking to answer the question, “How do we provide other reuse and recycling services under one roof?”
Whether it’s building materials, computers, bicycles or craft supplies, this is the organization to find the opportunity for collaboration.
Of course, the cool, get-it-while-its-hot materials and furniture provide a blank canvas for DIY and reuse projects. Head over to Construction Junction’s Instagram to see the latest and greatest they have in-house.
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