Demolition to resume next week at St. Paul Saints ballpark site

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2013 - 9:27 PM

As investigation began, Ryan officials said they didn’t expect Tuesday’s fatal accident to delay the project’s completion.

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A worker was killed Tuesday while demolishing the site of the new St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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As state investigators piece together how a demolition worker was killed Tuesday at the site of the new Saints ballpark in downtown St. Paul, the construction company overseeing the project said that demolition likely will resume next week.

Ryan Companies said Wednesday that it didn’t “anticipate that these events will have a significant impact on the project schedule,” according to a statement issued by regional President Collin Barr.

But Ryan officials also declined to take questions about whether the former Gillette/Diamond Products factory had been surveyed for possible renovations that might have affected the building’s integrity, and what additional safety precautions will be taken to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s accident.

City officials said that the Department of Safety and Inspections had received a “demolition work plan” that included engineering documents, but that there had been no reports pointing to additional complications in razing the building.

The $63 million ballpark is being built by St. Paul, mostly with state and city funding. Officials expect it to be ready the Saints’ opener in May 2015.

Construction veteran Johnny Valek, 61, of Plymouth, was killed when a 10-by-30-foot piece of the concrete structure that had been supporting the building fell onto the cab of his backhoe.

He was working for Rachel Contracting of St. Michael, a Ryan subcontractor in charge of the four-month demolition job. Rachel had demolished other large structures, such as St. Paul’s former 3M campus and Brookdale mall, and enjoys a good reputation in the industry, a national expert said.

“They’re a very good demolition contractor, a very safe contractor,” said Herbert Duane, a New England-based demolition consultant who founded the National Demolition Association, once headed by a Rachel executive.

Minnesota OSHA, the workplace safety agency charged with investigating what happened, arrived at the idled worksite Tuesday and began reviewing factors that might have led to the accident.

OSHA inspectors had not visited the site since demolition began two months ago, spokesman James Honerman said. He added that no schedule had been set for the investigation, although other officials said they expected it would take several months.

According to Barr’s statement, equipment involved in the accident will be removed from the site and concrete debris from the collapse broken down so that demolition can continue next week.

Although Valek had worked for more than 25 years in construction, his brother said that he had recently called the Gillette/Diamond Products demolition a “tough job” because of the weight and thickness of the factory’s concrete walls.

Randy Valek said that his brother had shot a cellphone video of the demolition work, but that the family had not yet gotten the phone back.

Most of the demolition is being done with backhoes equipped with concrete munchers, excavators and jackhammers rather than wrecking balls, which would bounce off the building’s surface.

City records show that Rachel applied for a demolition permit in late June, paying a fee of nearly $45,000. The job, which the company estimated would end Oct. 31, carried with it a price tag of $1.7 million.

“Demolition is a dangerous business,” Duane said. “If you look at worker compensation rates, you’ll find that demolition has the highest rates because you have unexplained and unanticipated accidents at times. You can be as safe as you can, but sometimes things can get away from you.”

Just the day before the ballpark accident in St. Paul, Duane said, a 60-year-old demolition contractor of long standing in Pennsylvania was killed when a church steeple crumbled on top of his excavator.

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