- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Andrew Laurimore likes to knock things over. Big things. Like the old D.C. Convention Center. Mr. Laurimore, 48, is a superintendent for Wrecking Corporation of America. The Alexandria company has stripped bare, cut up and prepared the old center for a series of explosions tomorrow that, if everything goes according to plan, will collapse it into a flat pile of rubble.

And then he will clean up the mess — about 10,000 tons of structural steel and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete.

“Once it hits the ground, that’s really the start of the job,” says Mr. Laurimore, wearing a hard hat and a flannel shirt.

It will be the first such demolition in the District in 30 years, a 20-second spectacle preceded by 21/2 months of preparation. It will be followed by more than six months of cleanup at the site — in Northwest between New York Avenue and H Street, and Ninth and 11th streets.

Mr. Laurimore and his boss, Terry Anderson, executive vice president of the company, are responsible for wrecking the building, which spans four square blocks in the middle of a busy commercial district. Demolition Dynamics, a Tennessee company, is subcontracting with Wrecking Corporation of America to set and detonate the explosives.

“This is actually a very unique job. [Wrecking and demolition companies] have not shot a building in Washington since 1974,” says 53-year-old Mr. Anderson, using industry jargon for an implosion.

The $6 million to $7 million project will clear the way for a new development that includes housing, office, retail and cultural uses.

But Mr. Laurimore isn’t concerned with what’s going up. He’s busy with the hulking, beige box that must come down.

Mr. Laurimore’s crew of about 35 men already have worked on the project for more than two months.

“We cleaned the whole structure out and got rid of all the trash — anything that would burn. And we took out some cinder-block walls to allow it all to sit down,” he says from inside the abandoned center’s cavernous halls.

Most of the roofing material was removed, so the building is leaky as a sieve. Holes have been cut into the roofing, as well, to allow air to flow out as the ceiling falls. Load-bearing columns have been exposed. Power to the building has been cut, leaving lifeless electrical wires dangling from the ceiling.

Steel columns in the three main halls have been stripped bare and torched part way through so they crumple just so when explosives detonate. Hundreds of concrete columns in the basement have been drilled and filled with explosives so that are evenly distressed but don’t immediately disintegrate. They are supposed to cushion the force of the roof as it collapses through a controlled crumble.

The exact amount and type of fissile material is being kept under wraps for security reasons, but Mr. Anderson says it’s not as much as one might think — about enough to fill a small room in a house. Just enough to get things started.

“It’s some explosives and a lot of gravity,” he explains.

Two different types of explosives will detonate in hundreds of places, using about 400 delays that time a series of blasts over a 12-second span, so that the building collapses in an orderly fashion, from the middle of the structure toward the edges. The entire roof isn’t supposed to hit the ground at the same time.

The demolition requires extensive preparation, but ends up being safer and easier than the alternative — disassembly by men crawling up and down walls, over roofing and under floors. Mr. Laurimore has supervised crews using the manual technique at the Columbia Hospital for Women, George Washington University Hospital and other projects in the District.

“It is safer to put the building on the ground [with explosives],” Mr. Laurimore says. “It would have been a lot of work to take it down section by section. A lot of fall hazards.”

Mr. Laurimore and Mr. Anderson say they both have lost friends and colleagues to accidents on the job. So safety is the primary concern.

“We check and recheck everything,” says Mr. Laurimore, who started in the industry 30 years ago as a heavy-equipment operator.

“The early days were very dangerous. You had to learn how to wreck or die trying.”



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