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Osiel Hernandez and Steve Kirkus use a double-handled chain saw to cut an oak tree.
Daily photos by John Godbey
Osiel Hernandez and Steve Kirkus use a double-handled chain saw to cut an oak tree.

New life
for old trees

Company’s recycling of trees solves a Decatur problem

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

Oak trees in Decatur that sheltered Civil War soldiers are reborn as timber, cabinets, doors and furniture.

Linda Eubanks, coordinator for the Beautification Department, said on average Decatur removes 50 trees from city property each year. Crippled by age-related diseases, the ancient oaks’ falling limbs pose a safety risk.

Four years ago these oaks went to the landfill. As more trees reached the stage where they presented a hazard, the city made more trips.

Renaissance Woodworking, a custom woodworking company, held the answer to reducing the number of trees overwhelming the landfill. Sandwiched in Northeast Decatur on Walnut Street between the railroad tracks and Bank Street, the downed oak tree trunks cover Renaissance’s parking lot.

At one time, these 60-to-80-foot trees formed canopies covering city streets. Today Renaissance recycles these trees.

Regena Richter and Marlon Archer of E Tech Construction assemble a gazebo for the Turner-Surles Center. Renaissance Woodworking created three gazebos for the center.
Regena Richter and Marlon Archer of E Tech Construction assemble a gazebo for the Turner-Surles Center. Renaissance Woodworking created three gazebos for the center.
The collaboration between Renaissance and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees beautification, began three years ago when the city started clearing trees from the 27 acres designated for the Jack Allen Complex in Southwest Decatur.

“After we cleared the site and started to build the complex, we talked with Scott Schoel to see if we could take the timber from the land and have it milled,” Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap said. “We actually were able to put the timber back into the buildings at Jack Allen.”

The partnership with Schoel, majority owner of Renaissance, tightened when the city placed Parks and Recreation in control of the Landscape and Beautification Department. According to Dunlap, at that time beautification hauled all of the trees slated for removal to the landfill.

Becoming expensive

Discarding the trees at the landfill became increasingly expensive with the rising gas prices and the landfill’s $26 charge for each ton of wood. To discard one 80-foot oak, which weighs about 20 tons, amounted to more than $500.

Parks and Recreation entered an agreement with Schoel allowing Renaissance to receive the trees and in turn provide a discount to the city on community construction projects.

The partnership offers environmental and economic benefits to the city and Renaissance.

“We definitely get a huge benefit because we’re not having to haul them all the way to the dump and then fill the dump up. ... We also receive a discounted price on large timbers used on buildings for different parks and facilities,” Dunlap said.

For Renaissance, the economic benefits include receiving a large amount of wood, possibly 12 pieces of timber from a high quality oak, for a decreased market value, said Renaissance’s General Manager Todd Barker.

The economic effect of recycling the oak appeals to Barker, but he also realizes the environmental benefits.

Good way to dispose

Renaissance’s Todd Baker with a mahogany door.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Renaissance’s Todd Baker with a mahogany door.
“This is a good way to dispose of trees, and a good thing we get to do for the city,” Barker said. “We are able to give the trees back to the community homes and structures.”

Renaissance does not recycle all of the trees the city tags. Barker examines the trees ‘straightness, diameter, weight and amount of disease when making a decision.

“If there is a rotten spot in the lumber, I may get as few as three to four pieces of timber,” Barker said. “In a case like that, I lose money, because then I have to ship it to the landfill and pay for the space.”

The trees that fail to pass Barker’s inspection are hauled to the landfill.

The oak trunks lying in the Renaissance parking lot, which Barker approved, are undergoing an air-drying process. Referred to as green lumber, the freshly cut trees contain about 60 percent moisture. According to Barker, the average air-drying time lasts a year, during which the trees lose more than half of their moisture.

“It is important to dry the green lumber before installing it because as it loses moisture it will move and contract,” Barker explained.

Once the oaks dry, Renaissance cuts the wood into planks and timbers, depending on the specific project.

Along with the Jack Allen Complex, other community structures include recycled wood. Local trees provided components for the wooden structures at Railroad Park next to the Turner-Surles Center in Northwest Decatur and the Japanese Garden at Ned Frazier Park in Northeast Decatur.

Translated as “rebirth” in French, Renaissance offers the majestic oaks a second life.

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