ST. LOUIS – Recent downtown St. Louis construction has exposed an issue one citizen has been trying to raise the alarm about for years. It exposed a hidden room under a public sidewalk, something that’s more common than most people know.

The latest discovery is on Olive and Jefferson, in front of the old Sam Light building. A construction crew just uncovered the hidden room.

Patrick Welsh, superintendent at Gershenson Construction, said a crewman who’d just been operating a track hoe to break up the old sidewalk made the discovery.

“Lo and behold, we got this huge hole that goes all the way out to the curb, which nobody knew about,” Welsh said. “It goes all the way into the basement. It was an old coal chute, or who knows, it might have been Prohibition stuff.”

It brings back a frightening memory for Derrick Langeneckert, who fell into a similar hole in a sidewalk in 2017.

“It’s been six years since my accident, almost to the day,” Langeneckert said. “ The hole is still there, actually.”

At the moment, a fence surrounds the hole and covers it with plywood. It’s been like that since Langeneckert says he broke his back falling inside.

Langeneckert was working a beer festival that day. The street was closed and the sidewalks behind the booths were used for heavy equipment, like a generator and the forklift Langeneckert was driving to move beer that day.

He’s still in the middle of a lawsuit with St. Louis over the accident. The city won’t talk about it because of the litigation, but Langeneckert’s court record shows evidence that the city is aware of hidden rooms under sidewalks all around the area. Pictures from the court file contain those of the hidden room Langeneckert fell into. Those pictures show the ceiling was constructed with block glass in the early 1900s, so shopkeepers could use the natural light.

“Construction this day and age, how many people don’t realize what you’re walking across?” Welsh said.

Only a thin layer of concrete appeared to be covering the hidden room Langeneckert fell into in 2017. That’s in stark contrast to what the construction crew discovered this week.

“I don’t think (my crew member) was in any danger due to the fact that whoever built it, over top of it, reinforced it with rebar from one end to the other,” Welsh said. “So, it was done properly, thank goodness.”