A crowd of hundreds, including four current City Council members and several past ones, many city staff, and a mayor from a neighboring community gathered Sunday to celebrate the of El Cerrito’s new .
Fittingly occurring on Earth Day, the event was an opportunity for El Cerritans to congradulate themselves on the city’s long history of recycling and broader history of progressiveness, as well as get a peek at the drop-off area, work areas, informational signs, administrative building and book exchange (which is expanding to become the Exchange Zone with added re-use items).
The new facility, officially named the Recycling and Environmental Resource Center, is scheduled to begin regular operations today, April 23.
After Mayor Bill Jones did ribbon-cutting duties on a strip made from joined plastic bags, visitors proceeded into the large area ringed by drop off bins – labeled in English, Spanish and Chinese – to hear speakers from the city and firms involved in building the center.
While the city’s usual annual Earth Day activities on the day before had volunteers laboring under unusually warm weather, Sunday was a bit more chilly, what Environmental Services Division Manager Melanie Mintz fondly referred to in her welcome as “El Cerrito weather.”
Mintz said you can recycle “almost anything” at the new center.
Jones introduced dignitaries in the crowd, including former council members Ernie Del Simone, Dick Mank, Rich Bartke, and Howard Abelson, and Hercules Mayor Dan Romero.
Jones noted that the original recycling center opened almost 40 years ago, when it was unusual for a city the size of El Cerrito to have a recycling program and center. The center, he said, was part of a larger progressive movement in the city, which also included opening a senior center. Satisfaction with the Recycling Center always ranked high in citizen surveys, he said, but in recent years the center was “basically falling apart.” In addition, he said, the recycling business has changed quite a bit in 40 years.
The design finally adopted was the third attempt, he said, with the first two proving too expensive.
Jones said the new center offers improved service to the public, greater efficiency, and better employee safety. He thanked those who designed and built the center for a product that is “very state of the art” and residents of El Cerrito for their support .
Councilwoman Janet Abelson noted that as the city looked at the condition of the center and changing recycling needs about a decade ago, residents were surveyed about whether they wanted to continue to have a drop-off center and the response was yes, even if it cost more.
“This represents the forward thinking of the residents of the city and knowing to do the right thing,” Abelson said.
Abelson recalled watching the installation by crane of the three pieces of the new center’s administrative building, which she said is “the highest level of green building you can have” and is made of close to 100-percent recycled materials.
The building was built off-site specifically for El Cerrito. “It represents what we are trying to do at this center which is to recycle and reuse everything we possibly can," she said.
Councilwoman Rebecca Benassini said that before coming to the opening she reviewed statistics on garbage generated in the United states – about 1,600 pounds per person per year. After seeing those discouraging statistics, she said, it was heartening to see El Cerrito’s new center, which addresses all four Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.
“People want to do the right thing. They just don’t know what to do,” Benassini said. El Cerrito’s center, she said, gives them the information and facilities they need.
Councilman Greg Lyman said he hopes the new Recycling Center will be followed by the rejuvenation of other civic structures: the senior center, library, and police and fire stations.
Chris Noll of Noll & Tam Architects said he’s been coming to El Cerrito’s Recycling Center for 30 years and was very excited when given the opportunity to develop a new state of the art facility. He said the circular shape of the former rock quarry parcel worked well for designing a new center that would separate the workers and their trucks from members of the public dropping off recyclables. The new design, he said, aims to have staff work efficiently, handling materials as few times as possible, and for clarity in directing users in where materials go.
Noll said he hopes it is an exciting place that families will look forward to visiting.
He noted that the facility is designed for low energy use and that a roof over the work area is used to collect rainwater, which is in turn stored in a large tank next to the administration building for use flushing toilets and in landscaping.
“This is our dream job,” said senior project manager Jim Coyle of Pankow Builders. “This is an incredible city.” Coyle said the center is as close as possible to the ideal of a “no-impact project.”
“You have a project you can be proud of. This is one of the best projects of its type in the nation.”