Renew can't salvage business

Saturday July 13, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Renew Building Materials and Salvage Inc. has closed the doors of its retail store off of Putney Road and the board of the nonprofit organization is trying to figure out the next step.

Ben Coplan, one of only three people left on the board, said the board has been talking to the banks, and to USDA Rural Development, to work out a solution to the organization's financial situation.

USDA Rural Development provided a $1.05 million loan to the group in 2008 to purchase the property at 16 Town Crier Drive and to expand the facility there.

"Renew is in a position of flux," Coplan said Friday. "We are looking for the most responsible way to dissolve the business. We are trying to figure out the best thing to do next to put this business out of its misery."

Coplan, who is the organization's treasurer, said a number of board members resigned over the past few months as the organization's financial situation grew dire and those remaining have been meeting weekly.

A contractor, who asked his name not be used in this report, drove up Friday looking for a door and found a Renew truck parked in front, blocking the building, and no one inside.

The contractor said he was at Renew last week purchasing used building materials for a job.

Calls to the business went unanswered.

On the company's Facebook page, there is a posting from June 21 asking for help.

"These past years of economic distress have weakened our capacity," the posting says. "We have new visions for what we can become but we need your help to make it happen."

Renew Building Materials and Salvage was started in 2005 to keep building materials out of the landfill and to provide local jobs under its deconstruction program which took down old structures.

Under the group's business model, property owners were charged to have a Renew crew come and remove the materials and then those used materials were sold out of the warehouse off of Putney Road.

Renew also provided jobs to underemployed workers in the region and provided job skills programs.

"I'm very saddened by the news," Renew founder Erich Kruger said. "A lot of people put a lot of passion into this business. The bottom line is that this is a loss for the community."

Kruger started Renew in 2005 and the board eliminated his position in July 2010.

Even at that time the board said the decision was made because of the organization's shaky finances.

Still, Kruger stressed Friday that he wished the best for Renew and encouraged people to shop there even after he was let go.

"It seems like they tried very hard in the transition after I left and I wanted them to succeed," Kruger said.

The slowdown in the construction business over the past few years hit the business hard, and in January 2012 then-executive director Nanci Bern said the company was struggling and appealed for donations to help Renew survive.

"I think the board bit off more than it could chew and some decisions were made that were probably not the best ones to make at the time," Coplan said.

Coplan recently retired from his position at The Vermont Association of Business Industry and Rehabilitation and he says he was asked to join the Renew Board.

He says he realized the business was in serious trouble as soon as he looked over the financial statements.

"For a while there has not been enough income coming in to pay normal expenses," he said. "We've been looking at a variety of options and we still are."

While Coplan declined to give out specific financial information, he said the $1.05 million USDA loan was one of the big challenges and he said the board has been meeting with USDA officials to figure out how the group might be able to pay off some of that money.

Coplan said there is a lot of inventory in the warehouse, but he also said people have been dumping refuse there which Renew has to deal with, and which he said is draining what few resources remain.

A real estate appraisal was recently done and Coplan says the board is figuring out what it owns, what it owes, and how they can bridge that gap.

"We are talking to some entities who might be interested in purchasing what we have," said Coplan. "It's very complicated. We have a lot of things to decide."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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