JOPLIN, Mo. —
A 5,000-pound wrecking ball was back in action Thursday, swinging away at what is left of the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin.
Dan O’Connor, project manager for Northstar Management, of St. Louis, said the building is reluctant to fall down. He said the 200 mph winds of May 22, 2011, knocked the hospital out of service, but, according to engineering studies conducted in the weeks after the storm, they did not come close to physically knocking the structure down.
“There was absolutely no structural damage to the building whatsoever,” he said, contradicting word that circulated immediately after the storm that the building was shifted off its foundation by the EF-5 tornado. “The building didn’t move. It didn’t shift. The only structural damage was to the penthouse, which was made of a much lighter grade steel.”
The sturdiness of the steel-reinforced concrete frame was on display Thursday as the wrecking ball pounded away for most of the day on the West Tower with little visible result. Finally, at about 3 p.m., a corner section of the tower gave way in a crash of dust and debris.
O’Connor said the wrecking ball will continue to be employed to bring down the older West Tower, which dates from 1968 and is constructed of steel-reinforced cast concrete. He said the newer East Tower, dating from 1982, holds structural steel beams, which will be cut.
O’Connor said the structure withstood the storm, but its lightly shielded emergency generators did not.
“What happened here was that our generator building, which was on the north side, was hit with a large rooftop air unit, and that knocked out all of the backup power,” he said.
It was the loss of power that caused five of the six deaths reported at the hospital in the storm. All five patients who died were on ventilators and perished when the machines lost power.
O’Connor said that while the structure was still intact, the peripheral damage to the building, combined with the age of the structure, made the cost of repairing it prohibitive.
He said many portions of the hospital were no longer up to code. He said the plumbing, heating and cooling systems, emergency sprinklers, and narrow stairwells were not up to modern hospital standards.
“The cost to repair this hospital outweighed the cost to replace it,” he said.
O’Connor said the new hospital being built near Interstate 44 will benefit from the hard-learned lessons from May 22, 2011. He said the hospital will be a hardened structure with reinforced stairwells. He said the building also will feature windows made of laminated glass that is shatter-resistant and has a high ballistic rating. They are designed to withstand 200 mph winds.
“They’re not bulletproof, but they’re close,” he said of the new windows.
O’Connor said the hospital’s generators will be located away from the main building in a reinforced concrete structure. The lines connecting the generators to the hospital will run through a protective tunnel.
CREWS HAVE BEEN WORKING to demolish the nine-story, 750,000-square-foot structure since January. A new 825,000-square-foot, 300-bed Mercy Hospital Joplin is under construction near Interstate 44 and Hearnes Boulevard. The new hospital is scheduled to be open in mid-2015.