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Demolition of fire-damaged buildings begins in downtown Atwater

Crews with T & K Kennedy Excavating and Demolition Inc. of Benson on Monday begin knocking down walls and removing rubble from buildings destroyed in an arson fire earlier this year in downtown Atwater. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

ATWATER -- As an octopus and a hot-dog stand rolled onto the west end of Atwater's Atlantic Avenue Monday morning, loaders, backhoes and dump trucks moved onto the east end.

The octopus is part of the carnival that arrived in town for Atwater's Festival Days that begin today.

The heavy equipment is from T & K Kennedy Excavating and Demolition Inc. of Benson that began a week-long process of de-molishing brick walls and rem-oving rubble from three comm-ercial buildings destroyed in an arson fire earlier this year.

The carnival and demolition crew will be co-existing this week in a community that, while still mourning the loss of a vital part of its main street commercial district, is nevertheless de-termined to celebrate the history and future of the town. The city had hoped the demolition would be done before Festival Days began and that the skeletal remains of the charred brick walls would be gone.

Because of complications with working with several different insurance companies from the three owners of the buildings and businesses, the demolition could not begin until this week, said Jack Kennedy, a spokesman for the company, during a telephone interview from his Benson office.

He anticipated the work would take about two weeks but that the crews were concentrating on doing "whatever it takes to make it safe for the community."

Troy Kennedy, owner of the company, said the goal was to "get the buildings down on the ground and get rid of the dangerous stuff" before the festival got underway.

During a brief break from operating the backhoe, Troy Kennedy said the project was going "pretty good" and that there had been no surprises.

There were nine people from the company on the job who were either operating large machinery or hand-shoveling bricks as grit blew in their faces.

Jim Solheid, Atwater's building inspector, was watching the demolition from across the street.

He said the crews were separating the debris into three separate areas. Bricks from the walls of the buildings were going to be crushed and recycled. The steel beams were also going to be recycled.

But because the guts of the buildings -- which lay in a heap in the middle of each of the three buildings -- could be contaminated, that debris was going to be hauled to a hazardous waste facility in Hutchinson, said Jack Kennedy.

"It's just sad to see what happened," said Mary Gruis, who was watching the demolition from under the shade of a tree Monday afternoon.

In a matter of hours on Feb. 28, a roaring fire destroyed the town's hardware store, a supper club and another building that housed two businesses.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in St. Paul said an investigation revealed the fire had been intentionally set.

A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information that could lead to the arrest of the person or persons responsible.

The loss of the Phat Pheasant Pasta and Brew, Peterson Hardware, Stickerboy Signs and Designs and Holm Brothers Plumbing and Heating, hit the town hard -- economically and emotionally.

But seeing the ugly remains of the buildings at the end of Atlantic Avenue for 3½ months has also been tough.

Watching demolition is "a reminder that's gone," said Megan Morrison, one of many Atwater residents that spent portions of the day watching the walls come down.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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