After months of delay, STAR buildings to be leveled

Ron Burtz

A full 10 months after local businessman Mark Nielsen announced a plan to demolish three former STAR Academy buildings by implosion, the demolition is finally scheduled to take place before the end of the year. Opportunities to push the button setting off one of the three explosions are being auctioned off right now and the proceeds of the auction will be split between a trio of local non-profits.
Back in February, Nielsen unveiled a plan to destroy the aging hospital building and its two wings with the use of explosives. The property was purchased at auction from the state Office of School and Public Lands in 2021 by Nielsen and others involved in the Beecher Rock LLC corporation. The nearly 100 acres of undeveloped land surrounding the old STAR Academy campus have been developed for housing and are being sold off in individual lots.
At that time, Nielsen planned for the demolition to take place within the next few weeks, however, delays in the permitting process with the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) caused the event to be put on hold.
Recently the state signed off on the unconventional plan, however, and the process is moving forward. Nielsen said Bradeen Auctions is conducting the online auction for the three button pushes and is donating its services so that “every penny” of the money raised will go to charity. The auction proceeds will go to support Friends of Custer County Search and Rescue, Operation Black Hills Cabin and Southern Black Hills Realtors for Kids.
Online bidding is open now and is set to close Thursday, Dec. 15, at 6 p.m. The winning bidders will settle and learn their button push times on Friday. Nielsen said the times of the three implosions—two of which will take place on one day and the third later—will not be publicized because for safety reasons he doesn't want to attract a crowd. He does plan to take photographs and drone video of the buildings coming down, however.
Nielsen would not disclose the name of the person who will place the explosives in the building, saying he doesn't want to be “in the spotlight.” However, he did say he has had the help of a Spearfish businessman on the permitting process.
When referring the man to us for this article Nielsen called him “Asbestos Dave Anderson.”
It's a fitting title because Anderson has been in the asbestos removal consulting and training business for 35 years. He says he was out of a job in 1988 and had an opportunity to go to work doing asbestos inspections in schools. Starting with that, he went on to develop a training program for those who perform asbestos abatement.
Anderson said much of the asbestos in the buildings had already been removed during projects over the years, and a Rapid City company recently came in to remove the remaining asbestos floor tiles, glue and other building materials from the structures.
It wasn’t asbestos the DANR was concerned about, according to Anderson, but rather lead paint used in the building.
Anderson said rather than hauling the concrete and brick all the way to the Rapid City landfill, which would have cost many thousands of dollars, Nielsen came up with the innovative idea of crushing the material into aggregate to recycle it for use as road base in the nearby development. He says DANR was concerned about the level of lead in the materials and its impact on the local environment.
After conducting research, Anderson came up with a formula showing that the remaining lead paint in the crushed aggregate would have been minute and “well below the regulated limits.”
“It was tough at times,” said Anderson of working with DANR officials on the permitting process, “because it was something that had never been done in the state of South Dakota, so they were pretty skeptical.”
But, after showing the documentation, he says he was able to convince them this was a good way to get rid of the waste and they provided Nielsen with a “beneficial use agreement.”
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Anderson, “It’s not gonna be a bunch of stuff that's put in the landfill. It can be recycled and used. It should be a bonus for Custer County.”
“It was kind of a lot of hoops to jump through,” said Nielsen of the process of securing the proper permits, however, he said the sale of the residential lots in the development dubbed “Star Valley Estates” has gone well. Only one unsold lot remains in Phase 1 of the development and there are two lots left to sell in Phase 2.

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