It’s a frigid Saturday morning but things are already buzzing inside Rebuilding Exchange. The massive warehouse is a popular stop for homeowners working on rehab projects. Rebuilding Exchange has become an important part of Chicago’s efforts to encourage using reclaimed building materials.
In five years (and just 14 months at the 1740 West Webster Avenue location) it has achieved an impressive list of accomplishments. Its diverted 200 million pounds of materials that otherwise would have headed to landfills. Its provided affordable building materials and workshops to 16,000 customers. The staff has also offered sustainable deconstruction training to 82 people who had barriers to employment. And, it launched a line of furniture—known as RX Made—created from reclaimed building material.
Rebuilding Exchange is a nonprofit success story. Its good for the environment, and it matches up people who want to build and materials for them to build it with. It will also be going through a transition, with a new executive director soon coming on. The week, on the occasion of the organization’s anniversary, I sat down with Elise Zelechowski, the outgoing executive director, to talk about how reclaimed building materials became hip.
“In the last five years, we have seen a pretty amazing and somewhat steady growth of interest in deconstruction and re-use,” Zelechowski said. “But in terms of brand recognition and people understanding what we’re trying to do, that has leapt in one year. That’s been really interesting to see and really exciting for us.”
On any given day, you’ll see a load of wood and other reclaimed materials coming in the back dock of Rebuilding Exchange—often donated. Then, people come in the front and look around for material to use for home renovation and rehab projects. If you don’t know a T-square from a power drill, it’s no problem. Rebuilding Exchange offers a number of DIY workshops for aspiring renovators. The popular Woodworking 101 course is a three-hour session on four consecutive weeks. The $245 fee includes materials—reclaimed old growth lumber, naturally. At the end of the course, you walk out with a finished 10 square foot tabletop or countertop.
“Our workshop program is very popular—people who come in and want to get their hands on some wood and start building,” Zelechowski said. “That includes our more crafty workshops. We have a program called ‘Scraptacular,’ which is really fun, we basically take scraps from our bin after we make larger pieces of furniture and let people loose on them, and people love them.”
Zelechowski said Rebuilding Exchange has captured interest from people donating reclaimed material, using it, and learning what to do with it. She’s particularly enthusiastic about community awareness.
“To know that people are excited about the concept of what we’re trying to do and have a level of consciousness about it, is also very exciting,” she said. “They’re starting to respond to a different way of thinking—as waste as kind of resource but also thinking about themselves in the local economy in a participatory economy in the larger community.”
Rebuilding Exchange’s accomplishments will be celebrated March 22 at it 2014 Salvagers’ Ball fundraising event, at the new Lagunitas Brewery in Pilsen. More information about the ball is available at rebuildingexchange.org/salvagersball