JOPLIN, Mo. —
The last remnant of St. John’s Regional Medical Center came crashing down at 4:35 p.m. Thursday, but getting it to fall was not an easy task.
The north bay of the medical center’s main tower was prepared Wednesday by workers who used torches to make cuts in the nine steel legs that supported the nine-story structure.
Cables attached to the legs were pulled by heavy machinery on the ground. Several attempts were made Wednesday to pull the legs out from under the structure, which took an irreparable hit in the 2011 tornado. Those attempts, which proved to be unsuccessful, concluded at 8 p.m.
On Thursday morning, workers were dispatched to Tulsa, Okla., to acquire additional cable. The cable was attached to the last legs at 2:30 p.m. After two or three more attempts, the last legs gave way.
Jeff Teagarden, vice president for special projects with Dore & Associates Contracting, said: “There is a sequence we must follow when we do this because safety is first — always. We used more cables than necessary as a safety factor.”
The bay was challenging because each floor was cross-braced. That prevented the bay from sagging and falling in on itself, Teagarden said.
The majority of the cleanup project is to be finished this month, he said.
Representatives of Sisters of Mercy Health System conducted a prayer service Wednesday at the site in preparation for what was expected to be the final demolition work that day.
The prayer was read by Terry Wachter, vice president of mission and ministry for Mercy Hospital Joplin, who said: “The Sisters of Mercy saw the need to serve the area’s mining community in its day, and this building outlined the path to state-of-the-art treatment for a full range of health concerns.”
The prayer reflected what took place inside the medical center. Wachter said: “For every child born here, we praise you. For every life touched by our service here, we have been blessed. For the opportunities to accompany those at the beginning and end of life, we are grateful.
“It is with appreciation that we release this place to a new purpose, and in gratitude we embrace a renewed future.”
Wachter, who worked 30 years in the medical center, has viewed its gradual demolition from a nearby office in the Hometown Bank building.
“It’s hard when you think your whole career has been in one place,” she said. “But it’s just concrete and steel. It was the work inside that mattered. That’s where the real emotion was for all of us who worked there all of those years.”
Wachter said it was difficult for her in the beginning to watch the structure come down. By the end, her feelings would change.
“I would rather see it come down than look as bad as it did,” she said.
Mercy is operating a temporary hospital on the St. John’s property. The new Mercy Hospital Joplin being built at 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard is to open in 2015.
Now that the shell of the medical center has come down, only one commercial building, the Medical Arts Building at 24th Street and Jackson Avenue, remains standing as an eyesore 15 months after the tornado.
Leslie Jones, the city’s finance director, is handling post-tornado demolition matters for the city. She said the structure has been turned over to the city’s building department, which has declared the building dangerous. The owners have been granted a 90-day stay, which is still in effect.
“I do know that something is in the works for that building,” Jones said.
Also to be cleared away are 10 to 15 commercial foundations.
Also remaining are several residential structures that have been declared dangerous. A bid for demolishing 14 to 15 structures with asbestos-related problems was opened by city officials recently, Jones said.
A contract for that work will go before the Joplin City Council later this month.
“Those structures will come down,” Jones said. “We have lots of residential foundations left, including 60 basements, 60 crawl spaces and 70 to 75 slabs. We have lots of old driveways left.”
IF THE OWNERS of the cited properties do not respond to orders for demolition, the city will take down the structures and charge the owners with that cost, according to Leslie Jones, city finance director.