Neighbors Air Concerns Over Noise, Rodents and Asbestos as Walls of Ravenswood Hospital Set to Come Tumbling Down

By Patty Wetli | Friday, June 22, 2012

The vacant Ravenswood Hospital. Credit: Erin Nekronis

Asbestos abatement is set to begin on the vacant Ravenswood Hospital (4550 N. Winchester) in early July, and demolition will follow sometime around Labor Day. Robert Nauert, director of finance and personnel at Lycee Francais Chicago, which purchased the property, and Bill Beaman, vice president of American Demolition Corp., charged with oversight of the abatement process, met with a committee of area residents last night to talk them through a construction schedule that stretches from this summer into 2015.

Erin Kupsco, representing the West Ravenswood Neighbors Association, came prepared with a laundry list of concerns. “It’s going to be loud and we’re aware of that,” she told CSJ. While residents are overall excited about the project and the anticipated rise in property values, “It’s just the fear of the unknown. What all is in there?”

Beaman clarified that, aside from the asbestos, the building has already been cleared of any other potentially hazardous material. “The X-ray machines are all gone, there’s no med waste whatsoever,” he said. “All the boiler stuff is gone, the freon’s gone.”

To rid the building of asbestos, crews of 12-15 workers will enter the main tower during early- to mid-July to conduct the abatement. “You won’t see much but there will be a lot of work going on,” said Beaman.

For those worried about toxins entering the surrounding atmosphere, Beaman outlined the process, which should take no more than six or seven weeks to complete. Any openings in the building will be sealed off with plastic and plywood. A “negative air” machine will pull fresh air into the structure while also ensuring none leaks out. Material, including tiling and pipe and duct wrapping, will be bundled and double-bagged in polyethylene, placed in closed containers and carted away. (So where you really don’t want to live is next to the designated landfill.)

“[Crew members] have to be completely suited up and decontaminated when they leave,” he added. Air quality levels require approval before critical barriers are removed.

Demolition of the tower, stripped down to concrete and steel, will take place at the same time that asbestos abatement continues in the other buildings that stand in the footprint of Lycee’s new campus. “The crew gets smaller and the equipment gets bigger,” Beaman said.

A portable crusher (equipped with an internal water sprayer to eliminate dust) will gnash up concrete and masonry onsite, to be saved for later use as backfill. “It’s probably as loud as a bus,” Beaman said of the crusher. “Probably the most aggravating thing you’re going to hear is back-up alarms on equipment.”

Regarding potential traffic snarls on adjacent side streets, Beaman said that trucks, excavators (“bigger than a small house”) and a 120-ton crawler crane will be routed to the site via Damen and a short stretch of Sunnyside. “No semis on Wilson,” Beaman promised. Montrose, plagued with its own neverending construction woes, isn’t likely to see any action either. Nauert added that residents would receive ample advanced notice of any alley closures or street blockages, which typically wouldn’t last more than a day at a time.

If all goes well, demolition could be completed around Christmas. Which brought up another question from Kupsco. “What about the rats?” she asked. The last thing residents want is for the rodents, evicted from their comfy home in the hospital, to seek shelter in neighboring alleys and dwellings.

“The city mandates we do rodent inspections,” responded Beaman, noting that ADC is required to hire a licensed exterminator. “We’re not allowed to wreck a building until [the rats] are all gone.” While the city will certify the building is rat-free before giving the demolition the go-ahead, Jim Poole of the 47th Ward office promised to also proactively bait a grid of alleys surrounding the site.

Following the asbestos abatement and demolition, activity will cease until construction of the Lycee’s new school begins in 2014; the school is scheduled to open in September 2015. In the interim, the space will simply resemble a gravel lot. “I don’t know how nice I can make rubble look,” said Nauert.

“At the end of the day, it’ll be a lot prettier than what’s there,” said Kupsco.

The committee, composed of individuals who indicated at a previous meeting their desire to be involved in ongoing updates, will meet on an occasional basis throughout the construction period.

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