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Old home to city's champions leveled to, sob, landfill!

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

By Susan Seibel

Oh, sure. The new one's a real looker -- luxurious, accommodating, and with a certain sway in the upper decks.

But the old one is not forgotten.

Three Rivers Stadium, or what's left of it, sure looks forgotten, though, heaped by the side of the road in Leetsdale while Heinz Field primps for the first regular season Steelers game against Cincinnati Oct. 7.

Like a member of a First Wives' Club, commiserating with the Kingdome and Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, divorce by implosion from the sports fans it loved has left it crushed -- into chunks as big as sofas.

Rebar is caught in freeze frame, like rusted serpents twisting to escape the concrete's grasp. Turkey vultures circle overhead and train whistles screech insults.

It might look like the stadium's fallen as if on hard times, banished to the boundary of Allegheny County and dumped between the railroad tracks and the Ohio River.

But it's the biggest thing to happen to Leetsdale in a long time.

Divided into two piles, each about 50 feet tall and as long as a football field, what's left of Three Rivers Stadium is in the Leetsdale Industrial Park on Route 65. After the Feb. 11 implosion, Anthony Trucking Co. of Dravosburg started hauling the remains to Leetsdale in tri-axle dump trucks.

There were 30 to 35 trucks working the site constantly. With two shifts of drivers, each truck made about five trips a day, according to Kim Crowe, an office manager for the trucking company. Each load weighed about 21 tons.

Even at that pace, it was six weeks until the final loads were dumped on March 30. All told, Crowe said, it took about 11,700 truckloads to clear the wreckage away.

The rubble that was once the stadium is owned by the industrial park. When it was clear that demolition contractors would have to pay a landfill to take the rubble, the industrial park offered to take it off the contractor's hands for free. Thomas said that his company paid to have it transported from Pittsburgh and processed into fill.

But in the yards of Leetsdale and surrounding river towns, there are suspicious-looking chunks of concrete in petunia and pansey-encrusted flowerbeds.

"A lot of drivers were approached by people when they stopped for lunch, asking if they could have some concrete from Three Rivers. One driver even had someone climb into the bed of the truck," Crowe said, and then added with befuddlement, "I don't get it. It's just concrete."

True. Hold a piece up to your ear like a seashell and listen. You won't hear reverberations of rock concerts long past or the roar sparked by an Immaculate Reception, but no matter. Some people simply aren't willing to let go completely.

Having lunch at The Crossings Bar & Grill on the edge of the industrial park, a Leetsdale public works employee said that his mother-in-law has some nice pieces of concrete in her front yard. But he can't talk about it or give his name.

"Nuh uh ... no way. She gave me a gag order!" said the pilfering public worker.

But Leetsdale Mayor Mike Maruca doesn't have a mother-in-law or a gag order.

"Sure, I went and took a chunk. It's Three Rivers Stadium!" Maruca said, cupping his hands around an imaginary piece of concrete to show his artifact to be about the size of a calzone. Besides being mayor to the town's 1,400 people, Maruca owns The Crossings.

Maruca told of driving to the pile closest to Route 65 and helping himself.

"Some guy came along and said, 'Can't you read the [no trespassing] sign?' 'What sign?' I said. I can't read. I told him go tell Mr. Thomas that Mayor Maruca came for a piece of concrete. See what he says," Maruca recounted.

Mr. Thomas would be Steve Thomas, a managing partner of the Leetsdale Industrial Park.

"We're trying to keep people off of it," Thomas said. "There was some interest in it for the first few months, but it's died down."

"We haven't seen anybody there in a long time,"confirmed Leetsdale police Sgt. Shawn Fleming. "It was a big hit for about a month and then it died out. We've never cited anyone. No one has ever been arrested. But people were climbing up on the side of the pile and you can see how dangerous that is."

If the danger in the tumbled mess of unstable concrete chunks and rusted rebar weren't obvious enough, the circling vultures suggest that rodents and snakes have taken refuge among the chunks.

The stadium will, however, soon be on the move again.

The final resting place for most of the stadium will be in the massive basins where the Braddock Dam is under construction in the industrial park. Contractors J. A. Jones Construction Co. and the Traylor Brothers have scooped tons of topsoil away to create a a double sink in the earth.

Under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the dam is being built in two parts in the two basins.

When Braddock Dam segment one was finished, that basin was flooded and the dam, all 11,000 tons of it, was floated into the Ohio River July 26. It was guided to Duquesne, where it is docked and awaiting the completion of the second segment.

"Segment two is still in Leetsdale at the casting basin," said U. S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Liane Freedman. "According to all our officials, it's to be floated prior to Oct. 31. However, depending on the weather, the river conditions, safety and engineering considerations, it could be later."

Freedman noted that when segment one was floated, it was the first time a dam floated in an inland waterway in the United States.

Heady stuff, but what of the massive basins left in the earth when the job is done? That's where most of the stadium rubble will find a final resting place.

According to Thomas, the concrete will be crushed into finer pieces and the remaining rebar removed. It will be mixed with topsoil and used to fill in the basins. Once it is compacted, it can be used as a stable base for new buildings in the park.

The remainder will come to rest near the river on 60 acres owned by the industrial park. It's land, Thomas said, that can't be built on because it falls inside a 100-year flood plain. But if fill is dumped onto the plain, compacted firmly, and built up high enough, it can be built on.

Even that somewhat ignominious end, however, seems better than the fate of the old stadium in archrival Cleveland.

Three Rivers is, after all, at least getting a decent burial. Cleveland Municipal Stadium, torn down in 1996, wound up in Lake Erie.

The rubble was used to build two artificial reefs to encourage fish to live near Cleveland.


Susan Seibel is a free-lance writer.



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