The €250 million Opera centre building site - designed to transform Limerick city centre - could become an example of new tricks for old bricks with a climate and sustainability dividend for other major construction projects.
It's one of the country’s biggest projects involving the recycling and reuse of construction rubble in which over 1,000 tonnes of stone, brick, cobblestone, old doorways and gates have been salvaged after the four-acre site was levelled.
Sustainability and conservation were cornerstones of the project from the very start.
Sixteen old buildings, many of them Georgian, and of important historical significance, are being retained for use as living accommodation, but huge volumes of material which would otherwise go to landfill, are also being harvested for reuse in other building projects.
Phillipa King is co-ordinator with the Southern Region Waste Management office, which oversees the waste management plans for ten counties across Munster and South Leinster, explained that it began with the country’s first ever pre demolition audit which identified in advance which materials could be reused.
"The pre demolition audit was designed to find out how much of the material on the site could be reused, recycled, repurposed and maybe remanufactured, and only as a last option would disposal to landfill be considered, as they are becoming very limited in the country.
"The focus has ultimately been about diverting as much from the waste as possible, and to maximise resource recovery on site as the buildings were demolished and I think we’ve achieved that.
"A key objective for Limerick today is to embrace international best practice on the circular build environment and what’s happening at Opera is another example of that, " Ms King said.
Dave Conway who is CEO of Limerick Twenty Thirty, the company leading the Opera construction project, said the sustainability aspect was part of the project from the very start, aiming to put new life into other building projects from what they harvest at the Opera site.
"We want to be market leaders in terms of the sustainability credentials for this project. The site will be fossil free in terms of sustainable living and working in the future. This will also be an example and template for other building sites in the future. We're pursuing lead platinum standards in term of construction and zero emissions which is now in demand for residential and working spaces."
"Also it’s the right thing to do. We want what happened here to happen elsewhere and not take away resources which can be reused by future generations," he said.
Already materials have been diverted for reuse at a wall at the Foynes Flying boat museum, for the repair of a wall at Holycross Abbey in Co Tipperary, palisade fence panels have been sent to Richmond Rugby club, and the metal entrance gates at the old Granary have been sent for use by Limerick Civic trust.
But there’s further new life for these old stones and bricks. With help from Limerick regeneration funds, and the Limerick City Build organisation, they are also being used to train early school leavers as stone masons and for other building trades.
Marcus McCarthy is one of the young men currently in training, blasting and cleaning the old stone, which is of excellent quality.
"I love working with stone, getting my hands dirty and learning the skills needed to repurpose the stone, and there’s plenty of it and it’s of good quality, I just love the work," he said.
Ray O’Halloran, who leads Limerick City Build which has been helping retrain this group said many are from marginalised communities who have fallen out of the education system, and are seeking new opportunities to retrain and start work.
"There’s another purpose for the stone, apart from it giving new life to other building projects, it’s also giving the lads working with it another purpose, and increasing their potential as employees. "
"There are plenty of jobs and employment out there, but we need to give the trainees not just the hand skills to carry out the various crafts, but the skills to stay in employment, to take instruction and meet the daily demands of work and sticking with it," he said.