MVR Renovations has kept things green and sustainable

November 12, 2018

Human Ecology holds first-of-its-kind Warehouse ReUse event

What do you do with a warehouse full of desks, chairs, filing cabinets and other office furniture that you no longer need? If you are College of Human Ecology Facilities and Operations Director Kristine Mahoney, you hold a first-of-its-kind Warehouse ReUse event to give it away to community members who can put it to use.

Over the summer of 2018, the renovations of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall required vacating two-thirds of the building, temporarily relocating around 200 faculty and staff. They were asked to take what they needed, being mindful of the limits of their temporary spaces, and leave the rest. There was a lot left.

Mahoney teamed up with Sedgwick Business Interiors, which maintains Human Ecology's warehouse inventory, to stage a 1000 square foot viewing area for seven weekends throughout September and October. The furniture was offered first to the state contract campus community at Cornell, then the wider Cornell community, and finally to everyone. Around 215 people claimed over 5000 square feet of furniture, diverting it from the landfill and boosting the impact of smaller community organizations by increasing their resources.

Among the bigger furniture takes was the underfunded Odessa-Montour Central School, which received multiple truckloads of desks and chairs, and P-TECH, a new TST BOCES program that gives students the opportunity to earn a Regents diploma and associate degree in applied sciences from Tompkins Cortland Community College.

In the past, much of this furniture would have ended up in the landfill, Mahoney explained. Instead, her staff recycled approximately 5,900 pounds of electronics, donated or recycled 6,900 pounds of books, shredded 13,300 pounds of confidential paperwork and moved roughly 7500 boxes in ten and a half move days. “Our building should be floating with all of the weight we removed,” Mahoney joked.

In an effort to make the renovations project as sustainable as possible, Human Ecology committed to outfitting the renovated space with a minimum of 60% reused furniture. Mahoney’s team inventoried and identified furniture that could be refurbished or resurfaced and redeployed, achieving the 60% minimum and uncovering some historically significant pieces along the way.

Offices that had been furnished three or four decades before turned up a number of excellent examples of classic design pieces including chairs, desks, and tables by Eames, Emeco, Bertoia, Knoll, Vecta, and Chadwick.

College Business Officer Craig Higgins said these pieces are being gathered, refurbished as needed, and will be placed throughout the buildings to allow for broader visibility and use by the community, as well as easier access by design courses for instructional reference. “This process is a great way for the college to reuse our furniture, conserve resources, and celebrate our history at the same time,” Higgins said.

The Warehouse ReUse event was so successful that Sedgwick’s warehouse manager is reaching out to other Cornell units with furniture stored with them to suggest holding similar events. In addition to the benefit of no longer paying to store the furniture, no longer having to inventory it, and only having product in store that can be put to use, Mahoney sees the event as part of the college’s public engagement work.

“We try to translate what we do here in Human Ecology out into the community. We do that with our research, we do that in the classrooms and with the students. This is another way to say to the community: we’re a huge resource and we’re offering this product to the community for it to be useful. It takes a little bit of work but in the end I think it was really worth it.”

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