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Taking Demo Work to an Artistic Level

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CASCADE CAMPUS – Tearing down a building may look easy but there is an art to demolition.

If one asks Mike Martin, owner of Northwest Infrastructure, you get a sense that there is much that doesn’t meet the eye. In his latest effort at the Cascade Campus (705 N. Killingsworth Street), across from the library, everything has a purpose and a process.

His company is a newly formed demolition and utilities company in north Portland. Most people would assume there’s nothing to it, but there is a lot more than wrecking a structure.

"Once we gut the building we save everything of worth,"Martin said. "We bring it down and separate it. It’s about a month’s process."

The real artistry comes in the form of just how to drop the roof. Martin’s crew first prepares the large support beams of the building for lifting by clearing excess debris away. This is done in order for a trackhoe to come in with straps that wrap around the circumference and raise the beam up out of the building. When that happens the roof or floor collapses neatly to one side.

From there, the roof and interior walls are demolished and separated of its useful material. Once the buildings are gutted, Martin’s crew arranges the debris into specific piles to either be thrown away or recycled. He estimates that 90 percent of the debris is recycled. This includes wood pillars and beams and concrete. Once everything is separated he calls in scrap collectors who load the material and haul it off for recycling.

"The recycling process is quite an art form,"Martin said, scanning the numerous piles of insulation, metal, wood and concrete slabs. "I love it. I love to manage. I love the heavy equipment. I love my job."

Through a bid process, Martin’s company won the right to demolish the structures at Cascade. Martin, an alum of Ockley Green Elementary School, has been in the demolition business for nine years and is a recognizable figure in the north Portland area. "People from the community stop by and can see I’m just doing my job. It puts a face on the work here."

An African-American, Martin is just one of many examples of the college’s commitment to diversity on its construction projects. During its multi-campus construction, PCC is outreaching to the community through its Minority- and Women-owned, and Emerging Small Business (MWESB) program. The coordinator, John Persen, networks with key organizations and businesses in the community to create a broader base of successful small businesses in the college’s district.

"It’s a good opportunity to improve programs that increase diversity and bring unique opportunities for workforce and small business development that only Portland Community College can bring to the table,"said Person.

One face that everyone sees on Killingsworth Street is the street-side facade across from the college’s library. Martin said that it’s a standard procedure to leave the fronts of the buildings up as they scrap the interiors. This is to prevent people from walking into the demolition site and taking materials or equipment. When the recycling effort is complete, Martin’s crew pulls down the facades and quickly scraps the remaining structure.

"People are shocked,"he said. "Because all they see are the fronts of the buildings as we do our work and then all of sudden there is this vacant lot when we bring them down. They say, "Man, you guys are fast."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »