Recycling, Rehabilitating, and Repurposing Our Assets

Environmentalists and urban economists alike agree that repurposing and reusing old buildings, whether private or public, should often be the first option vs demolition.
Photo by Tara Evans on Unsplash
Published on
January 13, 2023
Allies and Partners
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ACES Leadership and Youth Corps


Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinatedby ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

ACES tries to contribute to the health of our world, our society, and our communities by looking for opportunities for positive action through an environmental lens. That requires examining the entirety of our environments, including fields, wooded areas, waterways, farmlands, and cities. We try to understand how all elements interact to produce a healthy ecosystem, especially our regional ecosystem. How do we think through the needed planning, investment evaluations, green space requirements, zoning, allowed uses and what are the roles of the private and public sectors to make for healthier and more green, resilient, sustainable communities? The answer is one step at a time, holistically, and collaboratively.


For example, environmentalists and urban economists alike agree that repurposing and reusing old buildings, whether private or public, should often be the first option vs demolition. A city’s character is often reflected in its old buildings and Newburyport has done a great job over the decades of preserving the character of old Newburyport and ultimately hitting a good mix of old and new ideas to make it work well. A case in point being the highly successful downtown mixed-use preservation efforts with Inn Street and Market Square.


A recent Daily News article about repurposing the Brown School building strikes ACES as an interesting “thought experiment” to sort through a holistic approach and comprehensive criteria including environmental impact considerations. The Brown School and the empty Kmart represent options for environmentally conscious development.  There may be additional uses that could address the general needs of our communities to recycle and consider public property up-cycling and reuse, a key tool for achieving long range environmental goals.  


Considering the opportunity for economic development, might the city offer planning flexibility, perhaps even a lease arrangement whereby the empty Kmart can be repurposed? Mixed uses such as a business incubator, indoor soccer facility, kinder care option, or trampoline play club should be studied. 


These are opportunities to have multiple options that can use comprehensive criteria when being evaluated. Such an integrated approach might involve a community’s economic development, planning, social services, conservation, and housing entities plus private interests via the Chamber of Commerce and other coalitions. We are proposing a process with the optimal mix of collaborators to include in the city’s Master Plan updates while considering the increasing and critical need to account for changing climate and environmental considerations.


Additionally, perhaps there are sites for small community gardens when there is not a large piece of land for other uses. For example, open space around Geoffrey Hill on Low Street leading up to the Newburyport Powder House built in 1822 could be repurposed with a small community garden including a small section for pollinator plants.  There are other potential projects which would all require collaboration.


Another successful example of such rehabilitation and reuse can be seen with the Tannery complex. Perhaps the Salvation Army might want to up-cycle its complex in Newburyport to add some affordable senior housing. What about considering the now under used C&J bus lot at Rt 95 for mixed use development? The city needs more housing and a hotel too. It seems large enough and located ideally for commuters to build condos, a hotel, and apartments. It would provide new market demand for the Storey Ave commercial district and west end.


ACES’s point is not to suggest a specific solution to any specific projects with environmental considerations. Rather we see the need in every civic discussion for system-wide, holistic ecosystem thinking. Hopefully such an approach would lead to solutions to multiple needs simultaneously. Good solutions to address specific community needs are always about collaborative thinking and considering the ’system’ as a whole.


Our Youth Corps asks that if you care about issues like these and would like to learn more and possibly do a bit more or have any questions, please send an email to To learn more about ACES and itsInitiatives, visit


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