'The Culture Of SAU' Leads to Donating, Not Dumping


As always, summer was a whirl of activity on the St. Ambrose University campus.

The computer lab in Ambrose Hall and the second floor of Hayes Hall were remodeled. New furniture and carpeting were installed at the SAU Library (for the first time in 22 years), and improvements to the Galvin Fine Arts Center included replacing the sound system and improving lighting.

And, as always, in the process, a lot of Ambrosian generosity was extended.

Instead of filling dumpsters with building materials and old furniture, the university diverts all it can from the landfill by recycling and donating anything it can't reuse, re-purpose, or store.

It is a long-standing practice, one in place long before Jim Hannon became the physical plant director 10 years ago. And, he's, pretty proud of the university's stewardship and how it contributes to the welfare of the greater community.

Items pulled from SAU building projects over the years that were in acceptable condition to give away has included: lab tables and kitchen equipment, bed frames and mattresses, desks, library tables, appliances, filing cabinets, chairs, toilets, window air conditioners, historic windows, century-old wood floors and trim, lighting systems, plants, clothing and food students (accidentally) leave behind, and so much more.

Those materials were donated to K-12 public and private schools; volunteer and city fire departments; and community organizations that help countless Quad Citians each year including Bethany for Children & Families, Sisters of Humility, Habitat ReStore, refugee assistance programs, and more.

This summer, the university replaced about 100 mattresses in Cosgrove. About 50 had to be thrown away, but the rest were given to Bethany, which in turn, will give them to families they work with and those seeking assistance from other agencies across the region.

"Donations from St. Ambrose University and the Quad Cities community of gently used furniture and appliances mean a great deal to the children and families served by this agency," says Bill Steinhauser, President/CEO of Bethany for Children & Families. "Last year, the agency was able to distribute over 1,600 items at no cost to the families in need. These donations make it possible for Bethany, as well as 43 other agencies with whom Bethany collaborates, to help individuals and families establish more comfortable and more stable households."

The university donated the 22 tables and 88 chairs it replaced in the library this summer to Rivermont Collegiate. Headmaster Max Roach said he spent three weeks sanding and refinishing each table, then they were placed throughout the school, including in Central Hall where students, parent organizations, and other groups can now meet, spread out, and get to work.

The donation also allowed the school to replace old metal chairs in the music room. Roach said Rivermont appreciated the donation. "We've made very good use of the furniture," he said.

Hannon said the university hasn't kept a tally of how much it has given away, how much it is worth, or how much time staff has spent to coordinate donations and help load trucks. But, he knows it has a deep value.

Hannon receives letters of appreciation that also describe the direct impact, like one he received from Bethany thanking the university for providing a young boy his first bed.

Other examples:

  • Lighting pulled from the former field house during the remodeling and construction of the new Wellness and Recreation Center now illuminates the basketball court at Assumption High School.
  • The same project called for new cardio and fitness machines, and the equipment that was used for years by SAU students to stay fit and healthy are now doing the same for Davenport firefighters and paramedics at a nearby station.
  • Davenport public school students are getting hands-on learning opportunities in science classrooms, conducting experiments and more on lab tables formerly housed in Lewis Hall.

And last year, before the university demolished five nearby homes, it invited Gateway Redevelopment Group to salvage anything it wanted, and it did: removing trim, windows, kitchen cabinets, wood flooring, door knobs, and more. The all-volunteer not-for-profit sells what it salvages, then uses the money to restore abandoned homes in the Hamburg Historic District, which is just south of campus.

In all, the university has opened 18 homes for salvage before demolition to Gateway, Habitat ReStore, and other organizations.

Salvaging from Demolition

SAU has a long-standing practice of sending as little as possible to the landfill. Last year, before demolishing five homes, the university invited Gateway Redevelopment to salvage anything it could use. The non-profit sells what it collects and uses the money to rehab abandoned homes just south of campus. Here are photos of some of the materials saved from the landfill.

Hannon said as soon as they start planning a campus project, physical plant staffers evaluate what can be reused or re-purposed internally. If it can't be used or stored, they start thinking about who in the community could use what, then follow up. Hannon said it is an automatic process that, simply, is part of the Ambrosian culture.

Case in point: About once a week (and sometimes more) a campus department will send an email to faculty or staff asking if anyone can use equipment, furniture, or office supplies (yes, even used file folders) they no longer need.

Hannon said students also do what they can to reduce waste by recycling and donating to collections – whether it is clothing, food or household goods – throughout the year.

"That is just the mentality of the campus community," Hannon said.

The university seeks ways to recycle what cannot be donated. SAU rents a semi-trailer and throughout the year, fills it with rolls of old carpeting it has replaced or students (accidentally) leave behind. When the trailer is full, it is recycled by Mohawk.

The university also pays to recycle e-waste.

Hannon said by recycling what it can, and donating what it can't, the university is being fiscally responsible. The more "waste" that can be reused, re-purposed, and valued by another, the less SAU spends on renting dumpsters, hauling, and landfill tipping fees.

"Quite honestly, it saves the university money," he said.

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