Exterior walls start coming down on former Naeve Hospital building

Published 12:04 pm Friday, November 10, 2023

Crews with construction company Veit work to bring down the former Naeve Hospital building Friday morning piece by piece. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

After weeks of preparation on the interior, construction crews on Friday began demolition of the exterior walls of the former Naeve Hospital building in Albert Lea.

Plans remain to turn the footprint of the building into a commemorative garden in the spring with a small parking lot to the north of the garden to accommodate more handicapped accessible parking stalls.

Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea leaders said the demolition should be complete by the end of the year.

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The project includes the demolition of the original building in 1911, along with the additions in 1926, 1936 and 1946, for a total building footprint of 22,500 square feet, according to the health system.

The Naeve Hospital building has not been used for patient care since 2016 due to concerns with the building’s age, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the building became unoccupied as employees started working from home. The assessment of the building showed it was no longer safe for occupation.

Equipment tears through building Friday morning. Demolition is slated to be complete by the end of the year. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Kris Johnson, vice chair of administration at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, said with that in mind, a lot of care was taken to prepare the building for the main demolition.

Mavo Systems removed all of the asbestos, followed by work by J&J Construction, before crews with Veit could come in and do further interior demolition, said Bhargav Kachhadiya, project manager.

He said crews went through floor by floor to remove all of the debris that could not be recycled and also stripped the roof.

He noted they plan to recycle 80% of the debris generated from the demolition.

Crews with Veit were spraying water during the demolition process for dust control. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

“Right now the building is just a skeleton,” he said.

The project is estimated to generate an estimated 8,000 cubic yards of material — including both the recyclable materials and the non-recyclable materials.

The cornerstone of the building and a time capsule, as well as the Naeve Hospital nameplate above the main entrance, were removed and will be kept offsite during the winter. They will be incorporated into the design of the new garden.

Kachhadiya said he hoped to have the initial building and the 1926 addition down before Thanksgiving. Once all of the buildings are down, then they will have to sort through the material.

In the spring will come the work in the garden, and Johnson said once that is complete, Mayo officials look forward to a community event to open the garden to the community in the summer. At that time they will also likely reveal what is in the time capsule.

The building has gone through a series of steps until it could be ready for demolition, including asbestos abatement and removal of other nonrecyclable materials. An estimated 80% of the debris is expected to be recycled. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

“We definitely want to share that as a joint effort with the community,” she said.

“One of the things we’re looking at is how do we weave these components into the commemorative gardens?” she said.

She said there have been talks about using the cornerstone in a bench in the garden, along with bricks recovered from the 1911 building. Veit is salvaging 250 bricks to incorporate into the design.

Sue Loch, director of the Naeve Healthcare Foundation and community engagement coordinator, said the foundation is also excited about getting involved with some of the components for the garden.

Johnson and Loch said the health system continues to accept stories about the building at alnaeve@mayo.com. These could be stories of former patients or of people or family members who worked there.

Crews worked for a good portion of the day on Friday starting on demolition at the former Naeve Hospital building. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

“I’ve got some that made me laugh and some that made me cry — the whole gamut of birth to death,” Loch said.

She is also coordinating a meeting with retired nurses next week to gather more of their stories.

A display is planned in the rotunda of the medical center to preserve some of the history, including stories and artifacts.

Johnson said she knows this is a difficult time for the community to see the building come down.

A birdseye view rendering shows the planned gardens and parking area that will be added once the demolition is complete. Provided

“We recognize this is a very emotional event because of the fact that there are so many memories — memories of joy, memories of pain — within these facilities,” Johnson said. “And for our staff it’s an emotional event also, but we’re really looking forward to the future, the progress that is going to be made, not only with the commemorative gardens but the beautiful building that stands behind.”

Johnson said work has been completed on the new outpatient behavioral health and Fountain Centers on the second floor of the hospital, and in 2024 work will begin on upgrading the emergency room. That work is expected to be complete in 2025.

She asked people have patience as the projects continue.