Deconstruction = Construction in Reverse

As engineers look for a more sustainable way to dismantle aging structures, deconstruction is increasingly replacing demolition. Deconstruction is occasionally defined as “construction in reverse,” because its focus is the dismantling of building components for reuse, recycling, and waste management, thereby greatly reducing landfill contributions. Taking into consideration the building life cycle, deconstruction efforts strive to give the materials new life when the original structure can no longer serve its intended purpose.

But deconstruction of a 100-year-old prison laden with hazardous materials? That’s exactly what EBA Engineering proposed when we were retained to provide engineering design services for the deconstruction of the Maryland House of Corrections. Beyond successfully resolving several environmental and logistical challenges, one project goal was to assign meaningful roles to inmates nearing release, to provide them with marketable skills for employment and help ease their return to society. This project represents the most exciting and challenging of my career to date.

The project ultimately proved to be a tremendous environmental success. Deconstruction enabled safe removal and abatement of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, lead-based paint, equipment containing polychlorinated biphenyls, and universal wastes, with no contamination of remaining building materials. Non-structural materials, including appliances, doors, windows, and finish materials, were reclaimed for future use, while structural components, such as the historic brick, were salvaged for reuse wherever possible. Efforts also involved crushing concrete for future use as aggregate and recycling steel beams to serve as new structural supports.

Environmental benefits were only part of the success, however. As the engineering design progressed, EBA simultaneously identified inmate training needs and assisted the owner with developing a training contract. The selected firm completed the training of 120 inmates just as general contractor activities began.

The more than 75,000 hours of inmate labor applied to this project facilitated timely work progression while minimizing costs. The cost savings, environmental advantages, and job-related experience and marketable skills for inmates provided benefits to the owner, environment, and local community, respectively.

My work at EBA for more than a decade has involved a wide range of environmental consulting services including due diligence, industrial hygiene, engineering, safety, and compliance support. While I am fortunate to enjoy all aspects of my job – both in the field and in the office – this project was truly one of the most meaningful and fulfilling of my career.


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James Sines