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Smokestack going down

Photo courtesy of Tessa Elwood
Downtown Parkville’s historic smokestack is being demolished for safety concerns. The steel rebar supports 80 percent of the tower’s strength, and has disintegrated significantly. The 120 foot stack is 88 years old and will take up to 10 days to demolish. Part of Main Street is closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. while crews work on the structure. Shown, crews dismantle the stack when demolition began late Sunday evening. Rail traffic has not been stopped during the process.

by Stacy Wiedmaier
Landmark reporter

The clock was stopped. Time has run out to save Parkville’s smokestack that dots the downtown skyline. Over 10 feet of the stack has already been removed.

Demolition crews began tearing down the 120 foot stack Sunday evening at 10 p.m. The stack, located at 2 Main Street, is a separate structure lying eight feet behind the Power Plant Restaurant & Brewery.

Co-owner Tom Hutsler made the decision to demolish the structure after three separate engineering firms reported “the steel rebar used to reinforce the chimney at the uppermost portions has disintegrated completely.”

The minimum cost estimate to repair the structure is an initial $40,000 with added yearly maintenance. Each engineering firm recommended it be demolished for public safety.

“I don’t want to tear down the stack but it’s about safety and liability,” said Hutsler. “The engineer told us 80 percent of the tower’s strength lies in that steel rebar. There has been extreme corrosion and deterioration. I’m the chairman of the Parkville Main Street Association, which is a historical preservation program. I would love to preserve this landmark, but I’m also a realist. We could put a Band-Aid on the problems but that’s not a long term solution.”

The building and smokestack were originally built and operated by Park College students in 1919. The Park College Power Plant provided steam heat for the campus and much of the town. With its close proximity to the train tracks, conductors would detach their coal cars to feed its boilers.

The flood of 1993 damaged the building severely, making the stack no longer usable. It was later renovated into the Power Plant Restaurant that opened for business in December 1998.

Main Street and downtown businesses will remain open during demolition, which could take as long as 10 days. Regular daytime business hours are anticipated.

Hutsler said one option he is considering includes constructing a cell tower disguised as a smokestack.

“I’m currently working with the city, who recommended we look into building a cell tower and disguise it as a smokestack. But this could take some time. I hope it will look even more magnificent than the one we’re taking down.”

He said this project could cost as much as $250,000 or more and take over a year to take shape. The first step is finding a cell phone company who is interested in signing on to this project. But Sean Ackerson, Parkville’s community development director, said the likelihood of placing a cell tower downtown is “just not a viable option.”

“No, that’s not a plan and the city is not currently working on that issue,” said Ackerson. “There are pretty specific regulations for cell towers, such as placing security fencing up and a few other things. These towers are regulated by our codes division. You can place antennas on the top of existing structures, but that’s all. If the property owners intend to do this, they will have to attempt disguising the tower as a smokestack by building bricks around it. The only way to do it would be to build a whole new smokestack.”

Ackerson said the only involvement he had with the proposed cell tower discussion included a suggestion the property owners work with a cell phone service provider to fund renovation. Ackerson called this, “a compromise where the owners could partner with another service provider to help offset the maintenance costs of the stack.”

“There has been a lot of misinformation out there about the stack’s stability and who owns it,” said Hutsler. “The smokestack was not part of the restaurant’s lease agreement because it’s a separate structure.