ITHACA, N.Y. — Diane Cohen’s excited for the future of Finger Lakes ReUse.

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“Everybody’s going to know where we are,” she says. “This will be a huge transformation.”

Cohen, the executive director of Finger Lakes Reuse, is referring to the new store underway at 214 Elmira Road in the city of Ithaca. The property was built as one of Ithaca’s first big-box grocery stores in 1950, and more recently it was used as classrooms and office space for TST BOCES.

Finger Lakes ReUse (FLR) is a local non-profit focusing on materials recycling and sustainability. The organization has “deconstruction crews” who take apart buildings by hand, salvaging reusable building materials (which can be up to 70% of a building) for sale at FLR’s store at the Triphammer Mall in Lansing.

Renderings of new center:

The store also accepts gently-used furniture, electronics and computers, refurbishing them and selling the second-hand items. The housewares and building materials get a new lease on life, avoid the landfill, and FLR generates enough revenue to cover two-thirds of its operating costs. The other one-third is covered through grants awarded by local groups such as the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and the Triad Foundation.

FLR also conducts job skills training through its ReSET program, and pays all of its employees a living wage.

The renovation of the 17,000 SF building has been no easy task. “We’re a small non-profit, operating a store 7 days a week, multiple businesses really. Dealing with all the details involved has been daunting. But the community’s been really supportive and has helped guide us every step of the way. The city and the county planning departments have been really helpful with their guidance.”

The renovation of the old BOCES building will cost between $500,000 and $600,000, Cohen estimates. Even with the costs and the worries over details, Cohen’s optimistic that the project will help the non-profit grow and expand its outreach in the Ithaca and Tompkins County community.

“It’s going to greatly expand out ability to process and turn around even more materials. We love this location because it’s on the way to shopping and the recycling center, it links the commercial district with residential areas, and it’s going to really be a convenient location for people to shop for affordable materials. People will pop in here to look at materials for a project and find great prices, and we expect a lot of materials turnover.”

But FLR doesn’t plan on stopping with a new Ithaca location. The non-profit will keep its Lansing location as well, and is starting to make plans for how to use a $1.89 million grant received from NYSERDA last December. In the image above, a conceptual office/retail building and a lumber warehouse would join the renovated building.

“Those are the sketches from the grant proposal, where the $1.89 million will go. We’re forming a project committee that will decide what the new construction will look like. The warehouse will cover materials that would go in a lumber yard…transporting lumber back to the yard to take care of it will be really useful and important to us, we’re excited this grant covers that.”

Cohen did stress that the building layouts and designs are conceptual at the moment. “We’re really thinking about what the possibilities are: additions, pre-standing, we’re considering all of our options. Traffic flow and convenience are one of our biggest concerns, we don’t want things too congested, we don’t want too much hardship when unloading materials.”

But, once again looking at the short-term, Cohen hopes the new Ithaca store will be open by late fall, and there will be events on-site in the meanwhile.

“We’re planning a tent sale on-site on August 22nd. We’ll be operating and taking donations prior to construction being complete. We’ve got loads of materials we’re accumulating and we’re anxious to sell.”

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Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.