The structurally damaged Main Clinic at Altru Health System in Grand Forks is on track to be demolished before year's end.

Ken Vein, Altru administrative director of plant and facilities, stood Monday outside a fenced perimeter at the rear of the clinic at 12th Avenue and South Columbia Road. Within the cordoned area, demolition crews already were at work disconnecting the building's water lines.

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"This type of demolition is far more complex than the average demolition," Vein said. He said the location and connectivity of the structure, which is joined by both above-ground and underground passages to other Altru buildings, are key considerations. "A major issue is the fact that a lot of buildings are connected with a tunnel system that runs from the hospital to our cancer center, and within that tunnel are the utilities that serve each. You can't just demolish the building unless you take care of some of those other intimacies, you could say."

To manage those details, Altru hired both JLG Architects and PCL Community to serve in the roles of architect and contractor, respectively.

The work so far has been preliminary. Besides shutting off the usual utilities, Vein said the clinic building also had asbestos that needed to be abated before anything else could be done. And below the clinic, crews still need to build new walls to support the tunnel system while demolition goes on above.

The fact that the clinic is attached to a working hospital adds other complications. Vein said the demolition crews are monitoring noise and vibration levels from the tear-down to make sure they don't interfere with care provision elsewhere on the Altru campus.

For now, the demolition work is focused on stripping down the inside of the building. Heavy machinery should arrive by the start of October to begin removing pieces of the building's exterior. If all goes as planned, the clinic will be fully knocked down by the end of the year, with some work possibly extending in January.

Staff in the clinic's pharmacy first were alerted to the structural problems in late December by the ominous sound of a sagging, cracking wall and the unpleasant sight of leaking water. The building, which was built in the mid-1970s, was evacuated that day, and the clinic has been out of use ever since.

An assessment of the damage later found a beam had failed, a fatal flaw in what Vein said was a unique building design among Altru's facilities. Rather than restore the clinic to working order, Altru spread its functions throughout its other Grand Forks facilities, a plan that will continue for the foreseeable future.

Vein said Altru plans to complete a master planning process for facilities as it goes through with the demolition. Part of that plan will look at the age of the buildings, he said, as well as toward a wider shift in health care toward a more outpatient-focused delivery system.

That plan might determine some other use for the former clinic space. For now, Vein said the site will be backfilled and likely covered with topsoil.

"We've had various thoughts, but nothing that's firm enough to say what we might ultimately do with it," he said.