Photo: Twenty tons of building materials, salvaged from buildings at Fort Ord, will be shipped to Norway to be incinerated in a "thermochemical converter."

There''s an experiment underway at Fort Ord with the idea to kill two birds with one stone. One idea now taking shape is to turn old barracks into drinking water.

You read that right.

Rather than simply landfill old barracks and other structures to make way for a new road, an experiment that is about to begin will take parts of 26 buildings and send them to a test facility in Oslo, Norway, for an experiment in cogeneration. If it works, the process could be replicated here.

The company doing it, Sacramento-based Ocean Power, has plans to install a research and development facility on the base and, eventually, a network of desalination plants using renewable sources of energy.

Fred Seamon, who runs Ocean Power''s Monterey Bay operation, says he needs to find out some things first.

"What we hope to do is take the lead-painted wood from the buildings about to be demolished and, in an environmentally friendly way, convert them, through a thermochemical converter, into power that would be used for whatever purposes they want," he says. "We want to know if it is economically feasible to use lead-based paint and if it meets environmental protection standards."

To that end, the Fort Ord structures are being packed into containers bound for Norway, where a thermochemical converter-a high-tech incinerator with a scrubber built in-has been set up for testing. Because the old wooden buildings are encrusted in lead paint, the experiment is complicated in that the lead must be recaptured in the burning process.

Overseeing the operation for the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) is the agency''s facilities and leasing manager, Stan Cook.

"We''re trying to get as many benefits as possible out of what otherwise would be a negative situation," Cook says.

Fort Ord was mainly built during and after World War II, and features buildings which often contain potentially hazardous materials like asbestos and lead paint.

The 26 buildings being dismantled at Fort Ord are being removed to make way for a project called the 12th Street realignment, which will result in a four-lane boulevard connecting Highway One with Imjin Road, which in turn connects to Reservation Road toward Salinas. The City of Marina is working on plans to develop the 12th Street corridor for mixed use.

In order to clear space for the road project, 26 buildings of various types-enlisted men''s barracks, officers quarters, mess halls, day rooms, theaters and motor pool structures-have to be removed. The idea is to try to learn something about the potential for these buildings rather than throw it all in a landfill.

"Since we''re taking them out, let''s use them as a lab," Cook says.

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A kind of triage determines the fate of abandoned buildings at the fort. Some structures, such as the FORA offices themselves, are renovated and used where they are. Next on the progression are buildings which are relocated and used elsewhere. Two former day rooms were picked up and moved to Hartnell College, where they''re used for human resources offices.

Still other buildings are analyzed for their "deconstruction" potential as building material for new structures. Many of the buildings were built with quality Douglas fir lumber. The roof sheathing, which is made of tongue-and-groove pine, makes excellent flooring, according to Cook. In 1997, in a similar experiment, five buildings were taken apart and sold to people who used the wood.

"That information helped us get as far as we are with the 26 buildings," Cook says.

The last stage of reuse hierarchy involves mechanical demolition and "aggressive" recycling, such as grinding down wood for use in landscaping fill.

The bulk of the 26 structures, some 8,000 tons, is being either landfilled or recycled. Cook says about 40 percent will be treated with a spray-coating to contain lead paint, then landfilled for $67 a ton. The balance will be cleaned and sorted through for salvaging.

With shut-down military bases all over the country to consider, the Army will be experimenting with 10 tons of the material. Also, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, is taking two tons to a forest products laboratory for "reharvesting" experiments. The aim is to find out how much lead-painted wood can be reused after the paint layers are removed.

Another 20 tons is being packed into containers and will be shipped to the Norway plant for the Ocean Power experiment. The venture capital-funded company wants to learn if the material in the buildings will generate enough power to self-sufficiently energize desalination plants, possibly in the water-restricted Monterey Peninsula.

"As far as we''re concerned there''s no other alternative," Seamon says. "Clearly everybody is running out of water."

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