Metal Stripping and Illegal Scrapping Kills Historic Buildings

From comments made by Nancy Finegood, MHPN Executive Director to the Illegal Scrapping Legislation Work Group 

Metal stripping and illegal scrapping kills historic buildings.  The loss of historic buildings is killing Michigan’s cities like Detroit, Saginaw, and Flint.  Our historic buildings are what make our cities and towns unique, what sets us apart from others and differentiates us from being just another suburb.  Schools, churches, warehouses, and homes:  these comprise the fabric that makes up each town’s identity.  Protecting our historic buildings from illegal scrapping is good for residents, good for communities, and good for Michigan.

Our old buildings were built with quality materials, fixtures, and ornamentation—including metals.  The loss of this fabric decimates buildings.  Here’s how:

From the outside, the loss of metal roofing makes buildings vulnerable to water infiltration and other weather-related damage as well as providing entry for vandals.  Loss of metal architectural features—everything from ornamentation to statues to railings—detract from the economic value of the building, meanwhile disconnecting us from the story of why these structures are meaningful to us.

On the inside, stripping of interior metals—from the water pipes to electrical wires to sprinkler systems—make these buildings uninhabitable and skyrocket their rehabilitation costs.  Frequently, even those losses are overshadowed by the secondary damage done.  Sprinkler systems set off by electrical shorts as wiring is ripped out or the removal of plumbing fixtures setting off floods that destroy hardwood flooring and plaster before anyone can even notice it has happened.

What we’re left with is commonly referred to as an eyesore.  A building once honorable and meaningful now stripped of everything that made it unique and left to be condemned by the public as a nuisance.

The Vetal Elementary School on Westwood Street in Detroit was the victim of illegal scrapping when vandals devastated a congregation’s dream of opening a church in the vacant school smashing marble in search of hidden piping, stealing toilet fixtures, and setting off the sprinkler systems making the basement into a swimming pool.

The Edwin Denby memorial at the Brodhead Armory on Belle Isle—an enormously historic bronze relief that decorated this wildly important piece of historic architecture—was carefully extracted and sold who knows where.

And in Flint… this from the Executive Director of the Salem Housing CDC:

We have been of the opinion that our problems with illegal scrapping and lack of law enforcement are so well known that people are coming from out of state to scrap here in Flint.  We know that by far and large most illegal scrapping is being done by locals but the magnitude of the problem has grown so that even out-of-staters are drawn here to make a quick buck.

Let me say that the problem of illegal scrapping has become so prevalent that we now preemptively remove furnaces, water heaters and aluminum siding from any of our properties that we know are going to be vacant longer than just a very few days.  We will also have people stay in our houses just to prevent illegal scrapping.  All of our houses have alarms and we have armed response from a private company.  None of these measures are a guarantee, just a help.

Why should these organizations that are working so hard to save and restore our Michigan communities, bear the additional burden of the expense of protecting their buildings from scrappers?

There are countless other examples.

Michigan needs its historic buildings.  They are the landscape by which we understand where we came from, who we were, and who we can become.  It’s what makes cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids places to come visit, to see something unique. Stripping and illegal scrapping decimates these buildings.  In already cash-strapped towns like Flint, Pontiac and Detroit, erosion of a building to this level makes rehabilitation cost prohibitive and resuscitation nearly impossible. But we can deter scrappers.  With the right legislation, we can make it harder for a scrapper to sell a truck full of stolen steel piping, copper wiring, or a statue from a local church.  

If we want our communities across Michigan, to continue to grow and thrive, we need to protect our historic resources, our buildings, and our communities.  And that means deterring those that seek to rip them apart.  

This entry was posted in buildings, historic, historic preservation, Legislation, Preservation, Scrapping, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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