Wearing a white medical jacket with “Dr. Demo” on the back, Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt got behind the controls of a large excavator on Friday morning.
He operated a steel bucket with a claw on the end of a long arm and crushed a wall at the former Stephen Center to make way for the homeless shelter’s new $12 million building near 27th and Q Streets.
And he drove the heavy machine wearing an eye patch. The night before, Gernandt was doing lawn work and a rock flew into his left eye, scratching the cornea. He went to the emergency room, where they told him to cover the eye to rest it. He said the eye should be fine.
Gernandt had used an excavator before in a ceremony when the Stephen Center built an addition. He had help Friday from Mark Richter of Richter Excavating.
Several other dignitaries were on hand Friday for the groundbreaking, including Archbishop George Lucas, who offered a dedication prayer, and Mayor Jean Stothert, who praised the work of the center by quoting a client: “If a person really wants to change their life, this is the place to do it.”
Del Bomberger, CEO of the center, said the new facility had been planned for some time. Architects for Alley Poyner Macchietto, for instance, started drawing up plans for it eight years ago.
“A year from now we will be celebrating even bigger and better things,” he told the crowd.
Boyd Jones Construction will build the new center, which is expected to be done in about 14 months. It will have 62 apartments and a 68-bed emergency shelter. Public and private funds will be used on the project, including the sale of low-income housing tax credits.
A representative from the federal Housing and Urban Development department was supposed to attend the groundbreaking, “but we know why he isn’t here,” Bomberger said in a reference to the U.S. government shutdown.
World-Herald staff writer Erin Golden contributed to this report.