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Collapse of former hospital over weekend called planned, controlled

Demolition company says it will try to control dust during project

January 16, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Neighbors’ concerns about the demolition of the former Washington County Hospital continued over the weekend, when the tall building that crews had been tearing down collapsed in what a neighbor described as a “very large cloud” of dust.

A spokesman for the demolition contractor said Monday that the Saturday building collapse was planned and controlled.

“We prepared the building and then pushed it over so that we could get it down on the ground, and that was by design,” said John O’Keefe, marketing manager for Brandenburg Industrial Service Co. Inc., the Chicago-based company contracted by Meritus Health to demolish the downtown hospital.

The company has been working since March to demolish the East Antietam Street hospital, which was left vacant when the new Meritus Medical Center opened off Robinwood Drive in December 2010.

On Friday afternoon, the City of Hagerstown asked the contractor to stop work for the day because the windy weather was spreading demolition dust.

The shutdown was for Friday only, and the contractor resumed work as scheduled Saturday, according to O’Keefe and city spokeswoman Erin Wolfe.

“Unfortunately, on Friday, we didn’t control the dust as well as we have in the past,” O’Keefe said.

That was because the winds were high and it was too cold to use a mist machine without creating an ice hazard, he said.

“The winds and the temperature made for, unfortunately, a high dust on Friday, and we anticipate that being back to a controlled manner as it has been throughout the project,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe said dust is an inevitable part of this type of demolition project but that the company is doing its best to mitigate the amount of dust in the area around the site.

“We’re working both with the city and the owners to monitor what is going on there,” he said. “We’re doing our best to eliminate that. The sooner we can get these structures down, the less dust we’re going to have.”

Wayne Kesselring, who lives across South Cannon Avenue from the site, complained to the city about the dust Friday.

In a Monday email, Kesselring expressed concern that workers could have been injured when the building collapsed and said he planned to ask the Maryland Department of the Environment to test the dust that clouded the area Friday for asbestos and lead paint.

O’Keefe said all contaminants were abated before the dust-generating demolition work began, so the dust generated over the past few days should not contain asbestos or lead.

No one was injured in the controlled collapse, he said.

Wolfe said the city would send an inspector to check the site Tuesday. City offices were closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

O’Keefe said the company hopes to complete the demolition in March.

Now that the building is on the ground, work will focus on breaking down the large rubble and separating out recyclable materials, he said.

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