McAuley Building Coming Down Softly

April 12, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The $1.1 million razing of the McAuley Building is well underway, and Saint Mary's Mercy Medical Center hopes to have the above-ground demolition work finished by the end of May.

But McAuley isn't coming down in the usual manner, with a dramatic implosion that takes less than a minute. Instead, the building is being taken apart gingerly, with great care being paid to its parts and with serious concern for the neighborhood that surrounds it.

The 93-year-old building is being razed to make room for the new Richard J. Lacks Sr. Cancer Center, which will replace McAuley at the southwest corner of Lafayette and Cherry.

The mass-demolition segment of the project began last week. Workers started by taking out parts of the 1909 portion of the building, a section that sits nearest the street corner. Then they will move south on Lafayette to begin removing the 1953 addition, which is located across the street from the Peter M. Wege Health and Fitness Center.

But the work actually began last November when crews started stripping large amounts of asbestos from the walls and ceilings of the original building. Director of Operations Peter Skiles told the Business Journal that the asbestos removal alone would cost Saint Mary's between $400,000 and $500,000.

The razing is being done delicately because hospital officials are intent on saving portions of McAuley, which served as the first hospital. Vice President of Support and Ancillary Operations Jim Miller said items such as the metal cross that topped the cupola, the limestone crosses and arches from the building and a pair of cornerstones have been removed and will be incorporated into the design of the $42 million cancer center.

"We can reconstruct those on the rooftop garden area of the new building. There are some other stone arches and columns from the base of the cupola that we are going to re-use, too" said Miller.

In addition, he said 3,000 bricks from McAuley have been saved and stored. Some will be used in memorials on the site, while others will become souvenirs for hospital employees.

Skiles said one of the biggest challenges that workers have faced so far has been disconnecting the building's utility lines from the rest of the campus. Those lines linked McAuley to Xavier Hall at two different points, but are now capped.

"That took quite a while because there are a lot of electrical lines, water lines and sewer lines," said Skiles.

"We didn't want a demolition contractor just to knock it down. So they sort of surgically removed those connections with a group of skilled tradesmen. Then they actually saw-cut through," said Miller.

Miller added that McAuley's location, which is close to residents and on Saint Mary's busy campus, also has been a challenge. Another has been recycling the building materials. Miller said the hospital is doing this because it wants the new cancer center to be LEED certified, and recycling things like the McAuley window glass will help Saint Mary's realize that certification. But the materials must be sorted and stacked after being removed, a time-consuming and tedious task.

Triangle Associates Inc. of Grand Rapids is the project's general contractor, and the firm installed a Web cam on the site so everyone can watch McAuley come down. Logging on to www.smmmc.org and then clicking on the construction-update icon will bring the work into anyone's personal computer.

"We wanted to be able to communicate instantaneously with our neighbors to keep them informed on what is going on because they have concerns about noise, vibrations and dust. So we set up this Web site so they could link up with us and then the camera became a part of that," said Miller.

Triangle Associates Vice President and Senior Project Manager Jeff Jelke set up the video link and Triangle is financing its operation.

Trinity Design of Farmington Hills is the project's architectural firm and Bob Miller is the lead architect. Saint Mary's is part of the Trinity health-care system.

This coming Memorial Day will signal the end of the project. But even when late May arrives and Saint Mary's has brought McAuley's walls down, the job still won't be finished.

"We're not going to take the basement or the foundation out until we stabilize the soil around it so it doesn't cave-in," said Miller. "So the soil stabilization will be done from May through July. Then we will demolish the foundation and dig the new foundation."

"The interesting thing there is," added Skiles, "once we get down to the basement, it will take more time to get the basement out then it will the 10 stories."           

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