Pieces of former downtown Omaha library getting a new life

Cox Contracting Company got the task of demolishing the W. Dale Clark Library last year.
Parts of Omaha's former downtown library will get new life -- thanks to recycling and diverting that waste from landfills.
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 10:18 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Coxes -- John and his father before him -- have been doing construction work for a long time.

“He started out with a cutting torch and a tow truck scrapping automobiles, and it was basically his living,” said John Cox, owner of Cox Contracting Company.

John was 25 when he passed on -- by then, they were doing some heavy lifting for the railroads.

“What my dad and I did was we cut up railroad bridges and took out railroad track and cut up train cars,” Cox said.

Fast-forward a quarter-century -- a low bid last summer won Cox Contracting the job of demolishing the W. Dale Clark Library to make way for the planned Mutual of Omaha skyscraper.

And for 12 weeks starting last October, the job was done, no dynamite needed.

“Some manual torching and a lot of mechanical demolition with shear excavators.”

“We hauled about 1,750 tons of scrap metal out of there, and probably five to six thousand tons of concrete,” Cox said.

At that point, you’d think the work would be done -- just dump it, right?

As it turns out, waste diversion is a successful part of American industry -- 98% of all metal at demo sites gets taken to companies like Alter Metal.

“It’ll get processed and go to smelting plants and go back into making new cars, beams, whatever,” Cox said.

Cox sifted rebar from library concrete at the scene, like they’re doing here at National Concrete Cutting, enabling them to put most of that back to work, too. All told, 75% of demo debris stays out of landfills.

“They’ll crush it, it’ll get repurposed for our interstate projects, highway projects, things like that.”

Here at Cox’s yard, there are always a few things cherry-picked from the recyclers. Wander around the yard, and you’ll see bits and pieces from the last century.

“Those are 1940s, 1950s models,” Cox said. “I bought them, we sold all the usable parts, the engines and the traction motors, the wheels and all that. I couldn’t bear to scrap the rest of it so I just put it on display.”

A few items from the library are here, but almost all of it is long gone, on the road to becoming part of something else.

What Cox doesn’t recycle is available to pickers, builders and mechanics looking for special parts -- just be prepared to haggle over a price.