- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - First the Clarion, then the Gramercy, and now the Riviera.

Las Vegas is back in the implosion business, picking up where it left off after a string of iconic resorts were brought down with explosives from 1993 to 2007. A quiet post-recessionary period followed in which implosions were limited to such structures as the O’Shea’s parking garage, but the spectacles began again in February when the Clarion and Gramercy were reduced to rubble. The Riviera is scheduled to be imploded as early as June. The historic hotel closed May 4.

“I think Vegas is probably the implosion capital of the world, and it’s not going to stop,” said Controlled Demolitions Inc. president Mark Loizeaux, whose company has flattened more than a dozen structures in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Sun (https://bit.ly/1DSnQxN).

Whether the revival of destruction is a good thing is a matter of taste, as implosions prompt a mix of emotions. For some people, it’s a thrill that demolition expert Herb Duane calls “the greatest free show on earth.” For others, it’s a pang of sorrow in seeing places that spawned warm memories collapse in a plume of dust.

But strip away the emotions, and what’s left is a complex feat of engineering that combines delicate timing measured in milliseconds, a balance of using just enough explosives to bring down a building without causing debris to fly everywhere, and security measures to protect the public.

When done correctly, a building disintegrates as it falls, leaving behind chunks small enough to be trucked away efficiently.

“It’s almost like structural origami. We take structures and we fold them in a fashion to make them collapse on themselves,” Loizeaux said.

How does an implosion work? The first step to understanding the process is to know that it’s not about blowing the building to pieces. The explosions only trigger the process by destroying or weakening the support beams that hold up the building. Gravity and the titanic weight of the structure take over from there.

Which way does it fall?

To the side: A building can be felled in any direction, like a tree, particularly if there are vacant areas adjacent to it. This allows debris to be trucked away more easily.

Straight down: It also can be collapsed into its own footprint if it’s too close to other structures. It all depends on what’s more safe, convenient and efficient.

However, cost varies depending on the type and quantity of explosives used. There are additional costs - transporting explosives safely, storing them in reinforced containers on-site and providing security while they’re stored.

Furnishings, fittings and combustible items - wood, carpet, etc. - are removed to reduce the risk of fire and to limit rubble. Interior walls that do not bear weight also are removed, so they don’t hold up the building during the implosion. Workers may cut slits in the structural steel beams and weaken concrete pillars and support beams with sledgehammers, which can help the building come down.

On the days leading to an implosion, contractors and emergency services personnel secure the perimeter and regularly sweep the building to ensure it’s empty. It’s common to cover stairwells, hallways and other surfaces with a thin layer of dust to monitor footprints.

Much of an implosion plan comes down to experience and feel. Blueprints often aren’t available, and contractors can’t rely on them even when they can be located. Why? Blueprints don’t show deterioration and decay, and there’s no guarantee builders actually followed the plans when putting up the building. Demolition workers routinely come across examples of shortcuts and fraud, like mixing concrete too thin or not lacing it with enough reinforcement iron.

“All it takes is one person getting paid off,” said Brent Blanchard of Protec Documentation Services.

Computer modeling also is only so effective, because many variables can’t be determined, like whether the density of building materials is consistent throughout the building.

The trend of Strip implosions began with the Dunes, which was razed with great fanfare Oct. 27, 1993, just shy of its 40th birthday.

Steve Wynn cleared the historic hotel to make room for the Bellagio. The demolition doubled as an opening event for Treasure Island, also owned then by Wynn. Cannons on a TI pirate ship fired a simulated shot that “exploded” the Dunes marquee, then the resort’s North Tower was set on fire and imploded as fireworks erupted above crowd gathered to watch. The Dunes’ South Tower was imploded in July 1994 with no fanfare.

During the Clarion implosion, an elevator shaft partially collapsed on itself but remained upright after becoming buttressed by debris that built up at its base. Some onlookers concluded that the project had gone wrong, but demolition engineer Mark Loizeaux said he had told local officials the day before the implosion that the shaft might not topple. He said he made contingency plans to attach a cable to the shaft and pull it over with a crane, which is what ended up happening.

Most implosions that don’t go as planned cause inconveniences, not bodily harm.

Implosion may not be an option if a building is too close to structures around it that might be damaged, like a glass-walled office tower. Still, buildings set as closely as 8 feet away from neighboring structures can be felled.

In the case of the Harmon Hotel, which is nestled between other structures at CityCenter, contractors opted to pick it apart instead of trying to bring it down with explosives.

The Harmon was the subject of a years-long construction defects lawsuit that was resolved in December when MGM Resorts International, which built CityCenter, paid $173 million to settle it. Now the Harmon is being dismantled floor by floor and hauled away.

Inadequate space between other buildings isn’t the only reason contractors may choose demolition over implosion. It may be financially advantageous to scrap or recycle the building materials, for instance, meaning demolition is a better option.

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, https://www.lasvegassun.com


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