Thursday night (well, maybe early Friday morning… I’m in the midst of a “stay up late and do things” streak) I saw a post on the Immanuel Lutheran Church Facebook page announcing that the bell tower demolition would be moving forward today. I decided pretty quickly that I would pack up my laptop and cameras first thing in the morning and then work from the parking lot across the street so I could photograph the whole process.
I arrived at about 8:30 am, but not much was happening yet. I’d been there a bit when Ray Walther, the chairman of the Building Committee, came over and introduced himself. I learned a bit about how they’d gotten to where they were from him.
Basically, the bell tower leaked from day one. It was expected that there would be some amount of water entry into the structure because the metal on the steeple was vented to allow sound to escape when the bell was rung. In fact, they’d made provisions to drain the water they expected would enter during heavy rain. However, what nobody realized until they pulled the steeple down to extract the bell last month is that about half of the vents, which were supposed to be installed such that they sloughed most of the water off, were installed backward, which was allowing the water to come in.
Years and years of water intrusion caused quite a bit of damage inside, to the point that the whole tower was considered unsafe, and the congregation stopped ringing the bell as a result. The expectation was that it would be fairly straightforward to demolish the tower with a jackhammer.
That wasn’t the case.
Ray related a story to me… back when the new building was being built, there was an interchange between the contractor who hand-mixed and poured all the concrete for the building and others regarding whether or not a soil survey was necessary. If you know anything about the history of the Lee County Courthouse, you know the county has had to do foundation work on it several times since it was completed because the expansive nature of the soil caused foundation issues and cracks in the walls. Anyway, the contractor finally stated quite firmly that he “didn’t need any [blankety-blank] architect to tell him how to pour concrete.”
Well, seventy-five years later we have “concrete” (ha!) proof that he was telling the truth. There are no cracks or foundation issues in the building as a whole, and that bell tower was quite sturdy.
That’s why the folks at Immanuel found themselves where they were today… the idea was that the crew would use a concrete saw to cut the top 2/3 of the tower into eight pieces and remove them with a crane.
When I arrived at 8:30 am, the crew was in “hurry up and wait” mode… the crane hadn’t arrived, and they also were awaiting a lift with a larger platform that could accommodate the concrete saw. The latter had to be picked up from an oilfield.
By noon, though, everything necessary was on hand, and the work began in earnest. By this time, I’d gone back home and brought Margie and James with me, and they’d picked up lunch from the City Meat Market around the corner, and we watched the concrete cutting begin as we enjoyed our brisket and pork shoulder.
The first chunk of the tower finally came off at 3:00 pm. The crew then spent about 45 minutes cutting the next chunk… right up until the saw broke.
Bell Tower: 1, Concrete Saw: 0
Yep, that contractor sure did know how to pour concrete!