Transfer Stations

Building Reuse: Weighing the Consequences

Adapting an existing building for reuse as a waste transfer station is usually done as a capital cost savings measure. Building reuse saves on new site construction and can avoid the permitting process if the existing site already has a permit allowing the waste transfer activity. Building reuse can have some benefits, including conserving construction materials required for new structures and facilities; reducing waste from the demolition of existing buildings; recycling unused property for which no other uses were found; and redeveloping contaminated property (brownfields redevelopment). But the negative aspects frequently outweigh the positives. Pitfalls and problems associated with adaptation or retrofitting of buildings for waste transfer stations include:

  • Transfer buildings have unique requirements rarely found in structures designed for other uses. These include the need for vertical clearances sufficient to accommodate the tipping height of commercial collection vehicles. New facilities are usually designed with at least 25 to 30 feet of vertical clearance from the tipping floor to the lowest overhead element.

  • Busy transfer stations require adequate onsite space for vehicle parking and queuing, something reused buildings often lack. In fact, one of the most common problems with building reuse is inadequate queuing space, which leads to vehicles blocking neighborhood streets. Queuing trucks on city streets creates health and safety issues, and can be very disruptive for the surrounding neighborhood.

  • Transfer stations need relatively large, open floor areas suitable for maneuvering large vehicles. Interior building columns and walls might not accommodate the kind of safe traffic movements that are needed, which could pose a hazard and reduce traffic efficiency.

  • Enclosed transfer structures also require large, very tall access doors. Doors 24-feet high are not unusual in new transfer buildings. The design must assume that a collection truck will inadvertently exit the transfer station building with its tipping bed extended.

  • Heavy-duty, skid-resistant floors are a necessity in transfer stations. Sloped floors with positive drainage are also important. Some buildings are not designed with floors that meet these essential criteria, and replacing the floors can be costly.

  • Older structures, particularly older warehouse type structures, often fail to meet current structural design codes. In particular, modern seismic and fire code requirements have changed considerably in recent years. Retrofitting older struc- tures might prove more costly than demolishing and replacing the structure.

  • Transfer station structures can experience substantial vibra- tions from heavy equipment used to compact and load waste into the transfer vehicles. Concrete and steel floors, pil- lars, and other building reinforcements must be designed to accommodate these high levels of vibration. Older buildings not designed for this heavy use often can not meet these requirements.

  • Most transfer stations require some amount of grade separa- tion so waste can be loaded into open-topped vehicles to simplify the waste loading process. Since customer and trans- fer vehicles both need to access the structure, but at different levels, finding a building that offers this configuration might prove difficult. Installing additional levels or tunnels can be costly or impractical in some areas (i.e., shallow ground water or bedrock).

  • Waste transfer stations include more than just the tipping area. While an existing building might be very adaptive to waste transfer, the overall building site needs to accommo- date the supporting activities and requirements including traf- fic queuing, buffer zones, scale facility operations, etc.