By Melissa Macdonald

Special Contributor

AYER -- Ayer-Shirley Regional High School had some serious late-spring cleaning to do as school got out this year.

With the next big phase of its ambitious renovation project due to start as soon as the students and staff were off for summer vacation, the school was busy finding temporary homes for all kinds of equipment and educational materials, as well as dealing with the usual end-of-year clean-out.

But what to do with the scores of old classroom furniture the district plans to replace when the students are welcomed into the newly renovated space? And how about the many, many much-loved books, which the school library was ready to let go of to make room for new ones?

The answer: The district found two companies that reuse these older wares in areas happy to give them new life: IRN, a Concord, NH-based company, took the school's 1,038 pieces of furniture (a total weight of more than 41,000 pounds); Big Hearted Books & Clothing, Inc., based in Sharon, Mass., claimed the boxes and boxes of books.

Emerson Lennon, project manager for National K-12 Accounts with IRN, said, "We serve as a conduit for surplus furnishings, equipment and fixed assets to a network of domestic and international disaster relief agencies and global aid organizations. Our goal is to make reuse of surplus simple, and more cost-effective than throwing surplus in a landfill."

Typical destinations for the items IRN collects include Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala, Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as recipients in the U.S. According to Lennon, ASRHS's furniture is bound for economic development and relief efforts in El Salvador and Bucharest, Romania.


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According to Big Hearted Books' website, the majority of the books it collects are sold wholesale or on-line, or given to groups in need. Approximately 10 percent are recycled, and less than two percent are disposed of.

"Finding ways our furniture and books could be reused, rather than simply disposed of, was a priority," said Bill Plunkett, coordinator of operations for the school district. "We are pleased that they will go to good use for kids in places that otherwise have sharply limited resources."

Melissa Macdonald is a frequent contributor to The Public Spirit. She is also Recycling Coordinator for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District.