Everyone Loves a Ghost Story
April 25, 2023
This article was originally published in the March/April 2001 issue of DEMOLITION magazine.
NDA member D.M.D. Services made quick work of demolishing a 330,000-square-foot brick seminary that rose as high as six stories in some parts of the multi-winged structure. The success of the demolition effort was due in large part to the efficiency of a Caterpillar 330B L Ultra-high demolition machine equipped with a Cat MP20 multi-processor.
Another reason to speed through the demolition may have been the crew’s desire to finish up before encountering the long-rumored inhabitant of the old seminary — the ghost of a priest.
The Mary Knoll Seminary in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, near Chicago, had been vacant for 15 years, except for the ghostly image that had ben sighted by a security guard and a film crew working on the Hollywood movie, Lucas, released in 1986. Neighbors also reported strange happenings, such as the lights coming on when there was no electricity supplied to the building. And, when the building was used for police training, police dogs constantly “froze” in the same spot in the main building.
The claims of strange phenomena attracted an expert “ghost detector,” but he found nothing. To their satisfaction, the D.M.D. crew members confirmed the expert’s findings. Instead, they found a project to challenge their new 330B L UHD.
D.M.D. Services, based in Bensenville, Illinois, got into the demolition business in 1987 and joined NDA shortly after that. Dominick Disilvo is now the general manager of the company that his mother and father founded. Dominick’s brother, Michael, and sister, Deana, also work with D.M.D., which started small by doing residential demolition work and interior stripping. Now D.M.D. primarily does commercial building demolition, employs 20 people and has 18 pieces of demolition equipment.
D.M.D. is the first company in the Chicago area to use an ultra-high demolition machine, and the company has determined that it is faster, safer and more comfortable to operate the crane it had been using.
“Most companies would be using cranes with wrecking balls,” said Dominick Disilvio. “After using the Ultra-high for one month, we parked our crane because the Ultra-high is faster and produces more. Also, when it comes to getting on and off job sites, the Ultra-high is much better. It’s ready to work, and it adds a safety factor. Instead of sending guys up in the building with torches, you can use attachments to cut. You can also switch the boom and stick and use it as an excavator, which gives you flexibility.”
The Caterpillar 330B L UHD has a three-piece front, which reaches 68 feet 7 inches. The machine handles works tools weighing as much as 6,615 pounds. Operating weight ranges up to nearly 50 tons when the machine is equipped with an optional, hydraulically adjustable undercarriage. A short, retrofit boom configures the machine for clean-up, hammer use and digging. A choice of two, purpose-built demolition sticks expand the versatility of the 222-horsepower machine.
“We are using a multi-processor on the Ultra-high,” Disilvio said. “We can process and segregate material at the same time as we tear down. The operator can move steel beams into one pile and concrete into another.”
D.M.D.’s local Caterpillar dealer salesman, Paul Fabrizius of Patten Tractor and Equipment Co. assisted with selecting the appropriate work tools for the 330B L UHD.
The site superintendent and operator of the 330B L UHD, Harvey Moton, described how controlled demolition pays off: “I can keep the scrap materials separated. With the MP20 attachment, I can keep debris out of my way all the time. We also have a grapple work tool to separate materials. With a crane, material just falls into a pile. With the new machine and the right work tools, I can place materials in appropriate piles.”
“I can move the machine around the building a lot faster than a crane,” Moton said. “That helps me get to different areas to work on the building so that it falls where I want it. Another advantage is the reach. If you had a crane, you would have to sit up closer to the building. With the Ultra-high, we can set up at least 30 feet from the building. That makes it safer to operate.”
“And it’s more comfortable. It’s smooth operating — not hard on your body. With the tilting cab, you aren’t looking up anymore to see where you’re working. I can tilt the cab back and look out the front window at the work area instead of looking through the roof. It makes a big difference.”
The Task at Hand
The versatility and performance of the new demolition machine notwithstanding, it’s not the only machine that has been bringing down the house. D.M.D. employed several other machines on the May Knoll Seminary job to bring the buildings down, fill the basement and bring the site to grade to fulfill the six-month contract.
One of the first steps was to remove an 18-ton marble altar. The Ultra-high removed the roof to open access to the altar and a 200-ton-capacity hydraulic crane picked the altar. The altar was donated to a local church. The new owner of the property, the Glen Ellyn Park District, had all hazardous materials removed before D.M.D. went to work on the site.
Much of the 25-acre site will become athletic fields, though one building, which was previously a convent, remains on the tract. As part of the contract, D.M.D. was required to process concrete in the foundation to two feet below grade. Concrete and brick was used to fill the basement, scrap metals were sorted and sold for recycling and wood was removed as waste.
A Caterpillar 322B hydraulic excavator, using a variety of attachments, demolished low walls and processed concrete in the foundation and a Caterpillar 973B track loader cleared, sorted, stockpiled and loaded out debris. A pair of Caterpillar 246 skid steer loaders cleared and sorted debris, especially in the interiors of the buildings.
The skid steer loaders are not limited to use on ground level. On the seminary job, D.M.D. hoisted a skid steer loader onto upper floors of buildings with the Ultra-high.
Disilvio explained why he recently switched to Cat skid steer loaders: “Cat brought one out for a demo and we never sent it back. Two weeks later, I bought a second one. I like the way they are built and the power they have. I also like the fact that they are liquid cooled.”
“The joystick controls make driving a skid steer loader a lot easier,” Disilvio said. “The Cat skid steers are very smooth. Anything that makes work easier for the operators is better.”
“One of the reasons for our success is our family philosophy,” Disilvio explained. “We watch out for everybody here just like family does. We look for qualified people, and, to keep them, we try to treat them like family. We try to give them newer, more comfortable equipment. I know what it’s like to sit in equipment all day.”
D.M.D. successfully completed the demolition of the seminary six weeks before the contract deadline. Skilled operators and efficient equipment made it happen, but the prospects of encountering a ghost just might have made it happen faster.