The Alabama Environmental Council's Downtown Birmingham Recycling Center is getting, well, recycled. In early 2014, the AEC plans to demolish the building it leases at 25th Street and Second Avenue North and replace it with a new facility designed by Williams Blackstock Architects. The renovation also includes fencing and landscaping and look more attractive to the neighbors, according to Michael Churchman, the AEC's executive director.

"The new center will itself be what we preach, which is 'reduce, reuse and recycle," Churchman said. Churchman said the AEC initially explored renovating its existing building, with the thought of making it a "green" building with a certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. But making the aged building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified would have been cost-prohibitive, according to Binx Newton, one of the architects on the project.

"When you start looking at what it would take just to make the windows energy efficient, getting LEED-certified with a renovation would have been difficult and expensive," he said. Instead, he and fellow architect Robby Austin began exploring ways to replace the existing facility. In 2007, the AEC had looked at a new site near the former Carraway Medical Center when talk of moving seemed to be at the forefront. But when the owner of the existing building didn't object to a demolition, the focus turned back to the existing site and making it more functional and attractive. Newton and Austin pitched plans for a new modular structure made by recycling an old shipping container -- similar to the containers now used on the site to collect the aluminum cans, glass and other recyclables at the center.

Fencing to help the image and keep materials on site

A wood fence would allow the site to be closed off when not operating and help keep loose items from spilling off the property. "It is very important to show the community how this can fit into a revived area of town and not just be a trash-pile," said Churchman. "In the past, many people complained about the Center not being a good fit for an area of town that was reviving itself. Through a few changes to operation and increased attention by workers at the Center, we've already changed this opinion. The fence is another step to help it fit into the neighborhood and collect any loose materials before they leave the property."

Operation New Birmingham also helped with the fence project. Retired Director Michael Calvert became interested in the project when seeing renderings of what it could be. Originally a big proponent of moving the Center out of the City Center, Calvert was converted to believing the Center could be an assett to Downtown. He helped AEC raise funds for the fence, including pitching the idea to the City of Birmingham who contributed funds toward the project.

Modular is a key part of the new plan

In true "green" fashion, the modular design of the renovation has the added benefit of being completely removable in the future should the property need a different use or the center decide to go to another location. "We can literally take everything on this property and move it to another place," Churchman said. If, or when, this site is not needed to complement existing recycling programs, the Center could be moved to another part of the community, or even another part of the state, to help new recycling efforts.

The new design -- which comes with a cost of around $120,000 -- also makes the entire property easier to get in and out and allows for future growth, Newton said. That could be significant given the growing popularity of the center. Churchman said the AEC Recycling Center has as much as 120 tons of recyclable materials pass through each month, including round 45 tons of paper and 5 tons or more of metals, cans and plastics. Recycled glass makes up about 60 tons of the monthly total, being the only location to recycle glass in Jefferson County.

Most of the funds needed for the renovation have been raised and we're working through some permit issues to move forward. An original seed donation from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham jump started the funding and additional donations from other local foundations have been made. Churchman says AEC members and past supporters as well as neighboring individuals and businesses who utilize the Center and want to see it remain in it's current location have helped to raise the needed funds.

Local partners key to keeping Center successful

Selling the recyclables supports the operations of the center which, until recently, also required additional funding from the AEC. Partnerships with local companies over the last few years has helped the Center fund it's own operation through rebates on some of the materials. WastePro of Alabama pays for all the mixed paper and plastics. The paper is sent to a paper recycling company in northwest alabama who recycles it into new paper. Brothers Recycling on Vanderbuilt road pays for all of the metals collected at the Center.

"We are the oldest state-wide non-profit environmental advocacy organization in Alabama and we have received tremendous support for the recycling center," Churchman said. "People will drive an hour or more to bring their recyclables to the center because they do not have access to recycling in their communities." In the past 18 months, the downtown center has gone from it taking two weeks or more to fill the bins to doing it every five or six days, Churchman said.

The design for the new center was approved by the Birmingham Design Review Committee, and Churchman said the neighborhood association has also supported the plans.


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