JOPLIN, Mo. —
Phillip Parker has been watching the demolition of St. John’s Regional Medical Center for the past few weeks. He knew it would not be long before the towers would be coming down.
When he passed by on Wednesday, he saw a wrecking ball in motion. He pulled into a vacant lot on the west side of the medical center in time to watch the west wing of the original tower come cascading down in a cloud of dust.
“It just brought tears to my eyes,’’ the Carthage resident said. “It reminded me of my mother and all of the time we spent with her at St. John’s.’’
As he watched, the ball struck again, creating a dull thud that brought down more concrete and steel.
“It’s hard to believe that a storm could be that destructive,’’ he said.
Not far from where Parker had parked was David Young, of Baxter Springs, Kan. He had just been at the medical center before the tornado struck on May 22, 2011.
“It’s ‘bout time it came down,’’ he said. “It was a close call for me. There are just too many bad memories there.’’
For Stephanie Wilson, of Carl Junction, it would be the second demolition project that would touch her heart.
“It’s kind of sad to see it come down,’’ she said. “But it’s not nearly as painful as seeing my parents’ house come down after the tornado.’’
A crane with a 5,000-pound wrecking ball was positioned on the west side of the medical center. The ball was dropped on the concrete edge of the second floor. The ball was then swung into the concrete piers that held up that floor and the third floor. It took about 110 drops and swings to bring the six floors of the west wing down at 5:15 p.m.
“It’s a tough old building,’’ said Dan O’Connor, project manager on the demolition project for Northstar Management, of St. Louis. “I was beginning to wonder whether we should have used a heavier ball.’’
A 3,000-pound ball on the crane was replaced with the 5,000-pound ball before work began Wednesday. O’Connor said a 10,000-pound ball was available, but that it would have been more difficult for the crane operator to handle.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he said. “When the ball is swung out, it swings back in a sweeping motion. You can miss a pier.’’
The crane operator missed his target only a few times.
After the west tower is brought down, the demolition will move to the nine-story east tower. The west tower is made of concrete that was reinforced with steel. The east tower is made of steel.
O’Connor said steel supports at the base of the east tower will be cut to bring it down.
The demolition project started on March 1. The goal is to have the property cleared by Sept. 30.
About 40 percent of the former medical center is being recycled. What’s not recycled will go to the Prairie View Landfill near Lamar and to the landfill operated by the city of Galena, Kan. Some of the concrete is to be used by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to plug mine shafts and cave-ins that are being reclaimed in the region by the department.
Mercy Health System is constructing a new hospital — Mercy Hospital Joplin — at 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard. It is to open in the summer of 2015. In the meantime, Mercy is operating a temporary hospital 2817 St. John’s Blvd. on the medical center property.
THERE WERE 189 PEOPLE in St. John’s Regional Medical Center when the tornado struck. Five patients on life support died when an air handler on top of the building was blown off and fell onto the hospital’s emergency generators. One visitor to the hospital was killed that day.