Implosion will slice Martin Tower ‘like a loaf of bread’

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Martin Tower is scheduled to be demolished May 19.

Jim Santoro plans to slice Martin Tower “like a loaf of bread” from the bottom up this month, knocking out support structures with explosives and allowing gravity to drop the Lehigh Valley’s tallest building in less than 20 seconds.

Accompanied by a sound like a thunderstorm passing directly overhead, the crumble of 6,500 cubic yards of concrete and nearly 16,000 tons of structural steel will fall slightly southeast, with the heavy debris forming an oblong egg shape within 200 feet of the building’s cruciform footprint. A plume of light dust could linger in the air for up to 6 minutes, Santoro said, until it settles to a point where it can be swept up.

A ground vibration from the blast might be felt only to those closest to the site, maybe 950 feet. And much like a fireworks display, the noise of the implosion — or air overpressure — could be felt by more bystanders, he said.

“We’re not using explosives to blow up the building. We’re merely using explosives to remove structural supports to allow gravity to bring the building down,” said Santoro, of Controlled Demolition Inc. of Maryland “The amount of energy we put into the building is very small compared to what gravity is doing to bring the building down.”

Contractors, local government officials and a representative of the owners sat down with the media Tuesday to go over the specifics of the pending implosion of the 21-story former world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel. More details are expected to be made public Thursday.

Owners Norton Herrick and Lewis Ronca have hired Controlled Demolition, which was behind the implosions of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and the Riviera hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The 72-year-old company has done several Bethlehem Steel demolitions, including two blast furnaces at Sparrows Point and a chimney at the Bethlehem plant.

Martin Tower’s implosion is expected to happen 7 a.m. May 19, with traffic restrictions in place as early as 5 a.m. and air restrictions at 6 a.m. over Bethlehem. Santoro said the date won’t be postponed but the fateful moment could be delayed, perhaps, until later that morning depending on weather conditions or safety reasons.

Controlled Demolition has been on the job five months, calculating the amount of explosives it will take to knock out the structural steel manufactured by Bethlehem Steel. Relief lines have been cut into the building’s skin to ensure the concrete breaks up at certain points. Explosives will be placed on the first, third, seventh, 13th and 17th floors.

The heavy debris on the property will take six months to a year to clean up. Much of the concrete will be processed on site, crushed and used as fill material on the 53-acre property, which is to be redeveloped as a mixed-use project. The structural steel will be recycled.

Contractors have reached out to nearby property owners to recommend that windows, doors and air intakes be sealed and exhaust fans turned off out of caution. They won’t know what direction the dust will go until closer to the demolition.

The contractors say they have taken precautions to limit the dust. A lot of the dust-makers — carpet, drywall and interior fixtures — have been ripped out of the 525,000-square-foot building, but concrete will create dust, contractors say. Water sprays and misting devices will be used to knock down dust.

A third-party contractor will conduct particulate and asbestos air quality monitoring before, during and after implosion activities, according to Duane Wagner, a representative of owners.

The contractors have been removing asbestos over the last two years at the property, where more than 400,000 square feet of ancillary buildings were torn down. Wagner said that has created just as much dust as Martin Tower’s implosion, but it was not noticeable because the demolition was done over months, not seconds.

In an email Tuesday, Colleen Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said agency officials did a walk-through of Martin Tower on Monday and determined that the asbestos that remained from the April walk-through has been abated.

“All of the asbestos in the Martin Tower building has been abated,” she said in an email.

Wagner said the final step will be for the abatement contractor to issue a certificate of completion to the property owner.



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