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Old Sauk County Health Care Center in October
Workers demolish the former Sauk County Health Care Center building in October. About two-thirds of the materials will be recycled, officials say.

When most people hear the word "recycle," they think of bottles and cans.

Ralph McCall thinks of bricks and concrete. And he can cite the former Sauk County Health Care Center building as an example.

As senior project manager with WasteCap Resource Solutions, McCall is part of a growing movement to recycle old buildings. His Milwaukee-based nonprofit helps businesses and governments develop waste reduction plans.

"More and more constituents are expecting their governments to recycle and do what's best for the environment," McCall said. "It (also) saves local governments money to do it this way."

Sauk County hired WasteCap to oversee the recycling of material from its decommissioned nursing home on Highway CH.

The facility was demolished over a five-month period ending in late October. Many items were reused in the new, $12.56 million Sauk County Health Care Center, constructed by the county in the city of Reedsburg.

WasteCap reported that almost 93 percent of the material from 11 buildings at the rural Reedsburg site was separated and distributed. That's almost 4,000 tons of concrete, brick, metal, and wood that soon will be used for other purposes.

McCall said recycling projects like the one commissioned by Sauk County are becoming a necessity.

Almost a third of the solid waste that enters municipal landfills nationwide each year is construction-related, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That amounts to millions of tons of trash - some of which is burned in incinerators, causing significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Sauk County contracted with Dirty Ducts Cleaning, Environmental and Insulation of Madison to demolish the buildings for about $580,000. WasteCap was hired to facilitate and document the recycling project.

Although subcontractors were allowed to keep the earnings from the material they sold, the massive recycling effort allowed the county to save in other ways, said Tim Stieve, the county's building services administrator.

More than a third of the 2,600 tons of salvaged concrete remains on site. It will be crushed and reused by the Sauk County Highway Department.

The demolished material wasn't the only thing recycled from the old facility.

The county took in roughly $45,000 by auctioning off items such as freezers, refrigerators, and generators from the old nursing home, Stieve said.

Some citizens and local businesses also benefited from the recycling project. Nearby farmers used brick as fill on their properties, McCall said.

A subcontractor sold 485 tons of metal to a Wonewoc firm, Runick Metal Recycling Inc., which processed the material and sold it to a foundry.

Runick Metal purchased window frames and aluminum siding, as well as large steel poles, called rebar, that reinforced the concrete at the old nursing home.

"They were very diligent about getting all of the metals out of the building," said Runick Metal Recycling Vice President Eric Fink. "Getting rebar out of the concrete is no easy task."