Delicate Demo Recycles Historic Hospital

Edited by Matthew Phair | September 28, 2010

In a sign of positive news for Reading, Pa. residents, an underutilized hospital is being transformed into a much-needed middle school. Beginning that task was the precision demolition of portions of the former St. Joseph Hospital by Empire Demolition to make way for the future Reading Citadel School.

Working under construction manager Turner Construction, Empire's project included the remediation of hazardous materials, selective demolition, total demolition, and façade stabilization of various portions of the hospital. Started in 1955, Empire Wrecking Co. of Reading, Pa., has established a reputation as a highly regarded demolition specialist working in Berks County and surrounding areas.

The original stone building of the hospital dated back to 1882, and was expanded at least six times over the years to become a massive 400,000-square-foot building along with a group of row homes and a 65,000-square-foot parking garage. The project required four buildings to remain standing, one being the original historic chapel located centrally among all of the demolition. Additionally, three exterior walls and a tower of the original stone structure had to remain independently intact to be incorporated into the new proposed structure.

The demolition presented serious challenges. The only building that stood alone was a precast concrete parking garage. This part of the project was completed with the use of two 450 Deere Ultra High excavators; a 300 Ultra High excavator; and numerous other pieces of equipment fitted with grapples, hammers and processor attachments.

One of the walls to remain was attached to the chapel and needed steel shoring with foundations in place for the wall to stand alone prior to separating and complete demolition of the remainder of the building. The tower and two other walls also required steel shoring.

To erect the steel shoring, a Deere 80 Excavator was crane-lifted over the four-story building and placed into the courtyard to excavate for the footers. Next, the concrete for the foundations had to be pumped into the interior of the courtyard. Then the steel shoring was partially assembled in the rear parking lot, lifted over the building and placed into the courtyard using a 300-ton hydraulic rock crane.

Empire utilized the services of various subcontractors to handle different aspects of the project such as electrical disconnects, capping and relocation to keep temporary power in the buildings to remain. Empire hired both a structural steel and a foundation contractor to help in the underpinning and stabilization of existing sandstone walls of the original hospital structure to be salvaged and incorporated back into the new school. Elk Environmental, a sister company of Empire Wrecking, was contracted to explore, remediate and secure any underground cisterns discovered during excavation.

In addition to all the subcontract work on the project, Empire had to complete over 200,000 square feet of interior demolition that included the general hospital area, operating room and two large mechanical rooms. This had to be done without the use of motorized equipment due to the allowable floor loads of the buildings.

With Empire as the Prime Contractor, the project was accomplished with a team of over 50 laborers, five operating engineers, four foremen and a superintendent. At one point in the job there were over 70 workers on site between the subcontractors and Empire's work force. By mobilizing additional equipment, such as four excavators simultaneously excavating, hammering concrete, munching walls, and pulverizing footers, Empire completed the 26-week project two weeks ahead of schedule. At the height of the project there were five subcontractors involved with the project and five different locations being worked on at the same time.