Gastineau demolition takes first big bite next week

Like a worm in an apple, a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, or the face-hugging alien in “Alien,” the contractors demolishing the Gastineau Apartments will do their work from the inside out.

In a noon presentation Monday, City and Borough of Juneau Public Works director Rorie Watt explained the process that, starting about Jan. 12, will bring down the century-old fire-damaged apartment building on Franklin Street.

Rather than a wrecking ball or dynamite, “there’s going to be a high-reach excavator, and they’re going to break the building apart, probably using a variety of tools attached to the excavator,” Watt explained.

In a series of slides, he showed how the excavator, working from the former site of Gunakadeit Park, will first tear down the corner of the building adjacent to the park and farthest from Franklin Street. With the corner removed, the excavator will gnaw into the building, removing internal floors and debris. The building’s exterior walls, and in particular the walls facing Franklin Street and the building now occupied by the Rockwell, will be the last pieces demolished. At times, the process will leave the excavator working within the building’s hollow shell.

“It’s going to be a very methodical demolition of the structure,” Watt said. “Of course, there are going to be a lot of dump trucks, there’s going to be a lot of detail work.”

Work began in December to demolish the first of three buildings in the Gastineau Apartments complex, which remains owned by James and Kathleen Barrett. Sitka-based CBC Construction was hired by the city of Juneau to demolish the complex, which was damaged by a pair of fires and has been vacant and steadily deteriorating since 2012.

The Barretts contested a city demolition order, but the Juneau Assembly ultimately voted to issue a contract for the complex’s removal. On Nov. 10, the city issued a notice to proceed to CBC, which was awarded the demolition contract at a cost of $1.37 million. The city is expected to seek repayment from the Barretts.

On Monday, Watt and project engineer Rich Ritter explained that the demolition of the first Gastineau building – the one closest to Franklin Street – will take about two to three weeks.

“We expect that to come down pretty quickly and efficiently,” Watt said as a grinning, mustachioed man in the last row of the meeting room raised his crossed fingers for luck.

CBC Construction has already pumped the building’s basement dry, installed security cameras and performed preliminary demolition work, including on the building’s Franklin Street awning. That work stopped for the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays.

Before full-scale demolition begins next week, CBC will string screens to catch any falling debris, construct additional fences to keep spectators away, and perform pre-demolition surveys of surrounding buildings to identify any damage that might occur during demolition.

After the first building is demolished, work will begin on the other two buildings, which sit slightly uphill. A demolition plan for those buildings has not been finished, but CBC’s contract calls for work to be complete by the end of April.

After demolition, the site of the apartment complex will be covered in gravel and surrounded by a semi-permanent chain-link fence.

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