Construction Junction, What’s your Function?

When there’s work to be done, most people head straight for places like Hechinger’s, Lowe’s, or Busy Beaver to get the building materials they need—often paying top dollar.  Who says you have to go to a retail store to buy building materials?  Construction Junction (CJ), a new store based in Lawrenceville, is a place where you can buy used materials at a much lower price—which is better for the environment and your bank account.

“It’s like the Pennysaver in a warehouse,” says Mike Gable, CJ’s executive director.  “People like bargains and people hate to throw usable stuff out.  They squirrel things away in their garages and basements with good intentions and end up keeping them there for years.  CJ is an easy way for them to dispose of items.  They don’t have the hassle of running newspaper ads or fielding phone calls.”

Gary Goodson, Green Building Alliance’s director of green development services, wrote the initial business plan for CJ (with a grant from the Heinz Endowments) while employed at Conservation Consultants, Inc., another partner in the project.  The plan was subsequently adopted by Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC), a statewide non-profit organization recognized nationally for its expertise in recycling and waste reduction.  Although there are many similar programs around the country, Construction Junction, which opened in September, is the first one in Pennsylvania.

“PRC’s involvement in the Construction Junction project began with a phone call we received two years ago,” says Lou Tamler, the organization’s western regional director.  “A man said he had three tons of vinyl siding to dispose of and wanted to know what to do with it.  We decided there had to be a better answer than throwing it out.”

For Mike Gable, turning a 50-year-old warehouse into a retail store was a real challenge and presented many unforeseen problems.  But in the end, the challenge was worth it.  “I have an interest in environmental issues and I’m a home remodeler myself,” he says.  “I often wished there was an alternative for buying everything new.  The whole idea was intriguing to me from many perspectives.”

Since the intent of the store is to be a resource for contractors as well as homeowners, Mike is concerned about volume issues and wants to increase the supply of available materials.

“If homeowners hire contractors or remodelers, they should impress on them that they want materials carefully removed and donated to Construction Junction,” Mike stresses.  “Also, if contractors want to be involved, they can advertise from an environmental slant—saying they donate, give back to the community, and don’t contribute to landfills.  Architects can help, too, by urging their clients to donate materials.  It’s going to take everyone in the building trade to move this effort forward.”

One wonderful advocate of CJ is Tom Gray, an architect at The Design Alliance (TDA).  After years in the business and sick of seeing materials go to waste in landfills, Tom is doing whatever he can to spread word of the store.  “I tell others in my firm, mention CJ in demolition specifications, and see that materials from TDA’s jobs, including the conversion of the former Equitable Gas building to the new Art Institute, go there.”

Although Mike wants to increase contributions, he won’t do so at the expense of quality.  “When people donate things, they need to be in fairly good shape because we can’t repair them.  We don’t have the time or the staff,” he says.  “If someone has to think too long about whether the item is in good shape, it’s probably not.  We don’t want to be known as Construction Dumpster and be stuck with other people’s trash.  It costs money to throw out things on our end, and we’re on a shoestring budget.”

There is no shortage of doors at Construction Junction and, so far, the most unusual item donated has been a complete fireplace.  Mike hopes to receive more lighting fixtures, vanities, cabinets, and carpeting.

Some brand-new donated items are sold at fifty percent of retail; the cost of other materials is lower.  And to constantly help make space for incoming supplies, there is a bin of free merchandise available.

“We want the store to be convenient and uncluttered, and we intend for customers to have an ‘organized’ shopping experience,” Mike says.  “We especially want to get word out to low-income people and seniors who need to do repairs and think they can’t afford to.”

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