City's former Public Safety Building will be recycled

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Hold the headache ball, keep the jackhammers at bay and don't alert the landfill.

Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette
The old Public Safety Building at Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown.
Click photo for larger image.

When demolition begins today on the former Public Safety Building, there won't be a need for any of them. More than 70 percent of its parts will be recycled, some of them into a new park that will open on the site in the spring.

Last May, PNC Financial Services paid the city $4.2 million for the seven-story building at Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown.

PNC's goal is to extend the campus of PNC Firstside Center with a new 1.5-acre park for its 1,500 employees, designed with their input. The privately owned park also will be open to the public, providing a welcome patch of green space in a corner of Downtown that sorely lacks it.

Rather than send the building's construction debris to a landfill, PNC's demolition contractor, P.J. Dick, will painstakingly remove and recycle most of it.

"We're really committed to building environmentally responsible buildings, so we felt we should be equally committed to deconstructing buildings in an environmentally friendly way," said Gary Saulson, PNC's real estate director. "It kind of completes the circle."

Seattle architect and engineer Tom Paladino, PNC's green design consultant, estimates the building contains 11,000 tons of building materials, and that 8,000 of those tons are recoverable.

Ceiling tiles, drywall, structural and stainless steel, glass window panes and the aluminum that frames them all will be recycled into new products.

"We found a source who will grind up the drywall and use it for new drywall or another building material," Saulson said. Ceiling tiles will be sent to their manufacturer to be recycled into new tiles.

About 2,500 tons of concrete will be ground and used to fill the building's basement and sub-basement. Its 350 tons of steel, including the bars of 24 jail cells, will be melted to create rebar, used to reinforce concrete.

Some items, such as doors and plumbing pipes, will be donated to Construction Junction for reuse.

While a job of this size normally would produce enough miscellaneous debris to fill 30 large Dumpsters, Saulson expects to need only two or three.

PNC declined to release comparative costs, but expects the deconstruction to be far less expensive than conventional demolition because of the sale of recyclable materials.

The new park is being designed by the Downtown architecture and engineering firm Astorino, which also designed PNC Firstside Center.

"We want to make it a place where our employees can walk across the street for lunch," Saulson said. "We also want to create a child-friendly environment -- someplace kids want to go. I don't want to give away too many ideas, but it will definitely appeal to children."

PNC operates a backup child-care facility at Firstside Center for parents who need short-term emergency care.

The park also will interpret some of the history of the site, which in the early 1800s was adjacent to the Scotch Hill Market -- now the Boulevard of the Allies ramp. When the market burned in the Great Fire of 1845, its site became a park.

Houses and businesses occupied the Public Safety Building site in 1872, said Astorino historian Tom Josephi. In 1923, Keystone Grocery and Tea Co. occupied a building there. By March 1938, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had moved into two adjacent, three-story cast-concrete buildings, which the city purchased in 1960. It added four steel-framed floors to convert the PG building to the Public Safety Building.

The park's budget, still undetermined, will depend in part on how much the recycled materials sell for and how much of the building's granite and limestone exterior can be used in the park, said Elmer Burger, project architect for Astorino. The designers will work with a sculptor, already selected but unidentified.

PNC is recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as a national leader in the green building movement. According to its Web site, PNC is second in the country, behind Ford Motor Co., in the number of buildings participating in the council's certification program. Ford has 12; PNC has nine, including the first sustainable bank branches in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

PNC Firstside Center, which opened in 2000 to shelter back-of-the-house operations like loan and check processing, received a silver rating in the council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.


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