OWATONNA — An Owatonna man narrowly escaped serious injury Wednesday morning when a wall at a demolition site in the downtown area of the city collapsed on his pickup truck just moments after the man had exited the truck and walked away.
Dave Schlobohm had just parked his truck in front of a demolition site on Vine Street — the site where an old building is being demolished to make room for the construction of a 54-unit apartment complex — and was walking across the street to the Elks Club at about 11:30 a.m. when the wall collapsed.
“I opened the door to my truck, took 10 steps and heard thunder or loud banging, turned around and watched the front of the building coming down on my truck,” Schlobohm said.
Bricks and lumber from the wall were strewn into the middle of the road and some all the way across the street. Schlobohm managed to run to safety when he saw the wall starting to collapse and to turn and snap a photo of the aftermath, even managing to capture some of the dust and debris in the air.
He was not hurt in the incident, though he said his truck was totaled.
The owner and operator of Ace Construction in Owatonna, Schlobohm said he was surprised that the demolition site was not blocked off more than it was. The building was just a few feet away from the road with only a chain link fence and the width of the sidewalk separating the street from the building, and nothing was there to keep him or others from parking in front of the building, he said.
“The street should have been closed off from the beginning,” Schlobohm said. “When I’ve had to do demolition, they’ve made me jump through hoops to maintain safety. How did this happen?”
But both City Engineer/Public Works Director Kyle Skov and Community Development Director Troy Klecker confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the company doing the demolition is responsible for requesting that the city block off any roads during the demolition..
“It’s up to them. They’re responsible,” said Skov. “They have to figure out what needs to be blocked off.”
Both Skov and Klecker said that the company, JJD Companies of Blooming Prairie, had not made any such request.
“There was nothing on the permit saying that they wanted anything blocked off,” said Klecker.
Dan Niles, the project manager for JJD Companies, declined comment.
Schlobohm, a trustee of the Elks Club who was on his way to the club for lunch and to co-sign some checks, said the street at that time of day is often very busy with employees from nearby Jostens going to lunch.
“I looked down the street and there was not a soul in sight, not a car in sight,” he said, calling it “fortunate.”
The demolition of the building in the 100 block of East Vine Street across from the Elks Club began this week to make room for the high-end apartment complex. The building that is being razed had been used for various purposes over its long history, including an automobile dealership, a church and a warehouse. It underwent some minor asbestos abatement last week in preparation for its demolition.
Klecker said he did not think the collapse of the wall would slow down the apartment project.
“It shouldn’t,” he said. “They’ll finish up the demolition and move on to the next stage,”
Meanwhile, Schlobohm questioned some of the procedures that were done — or rather, at least in his view, not done.
“I’ve been in construction for 35 years, and I’ve had to take precautionary steps whenever I’ve taken a building down,” Schlobohm said. “I don’t think that precautionary steps were taken.”