Close to 94% of former building given a second life through reuse and recycling.

Climate Action with a Big Impact

The City of Boulder recently finished carefully dismantling the former Boulder Community Health Hospital to make way for redevelopment on its Alpine-Balsam property. This process, called sustainable deconstruction, allowed for reuse and recycling of almost 94% of the hospital’s building materials by weight instead of entombing them in landfills. Concrete, metal, electronics and donated items, like pumps and doors, represented the top materials diverted. Final waste diversion rates were provided by Ameresco, a general contractor hired by the city to manage deconstruction at the site.

“Deconstruction saves the valuable natural resources and carbon tied up in a building,” said Sustainability Policy Advisor Emily Freeman. “Every part of a building creates greenhouse gas emissions; natural resources must be extracted, processed and transported to a construction site. Salvaging materials is not only a critical part of curbing waste, but also reducing emissions and keeping ecosystems intact.”

Boulder Community Hospital deconstruction aerial photograph

Deconstruction is climate action with a big impact. Building materials are among the worst contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and drive overconsumption of natural resources. Manufacturing building materials accounts for around 11% of global emissions each year, and these materials make up more than a third of Boulder County’s total annual waste. So, every sustainably deconstructed building is a step closer to achieving the city’s circular economy vision and climate targets.

“We hope that our success efficiently and effectively deconstructing the hospital serves as a model for other communities,” said Facilities Architectural Senior Manager Michele Crane. “We wanted to push the limits on reuse to show it’s doable, and to help make this approach more cost-effective and common practice in the future.”

Finding New Homes for Reused Materials

Deconstruction of the hospital was broken into two phases: interior and exterior. During interior deconstruction, doors, light fixtures, sinks, mechanical and electric equipment, and other indoor items were auctioned off and given a new home. In the exterior phase, the city focused on taking apart and directly reusing the hospital’s structural steel. Several city projects are finding a new life for the steel, including the new Fire Station 3 and rebuilding at the Alpine-Balsam site. The hospital’s concrete and brick were crushed and used to fill the hole created by the removal of the building. More information about project is available on the city’s website.

Listen to “Let’s Talk Boulder” to Learn More

The latest “Let’s Talk Boulder” podcast episode, titled “No Waste in the First Place,” discusses Boulder’s journey to prevent waste, give new life to used materials, and build an economic system that regenerates our planet instead of exploiting it. The episode also digs into sustainable deconstruction and tells the story of unbuilding the former hospital. The podcast is available on major listening platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.