Taking down the McGuire, without using explosives

The 9-year-old Belltown apartment building must be torn down due to faulty construction, but officials are trying to lessen the demolition's impact on neighbors.

The McGuire Apartments, sheathed in scaffolding, with Carpenter's Hall in lower left.

The McGuire Apartments, sheathed in scaffolding, with Carpenter's Hall in lower left. Ronald Holden

After much speculation and back-and-forth surrounding the future of the 9-year-old McGuire Apartments building in Belltown, contractor Lewis Crutcher Lewis has finally confirmed details of how the 25-story building will be demolished.

Yes, even as construction of new residential buildings starts up again after three years of uncertainty, a relatively new apartment high-rise is being torn down. The reason is that the cables used in a construction procedure for the concrete slabs of the building floors (called "post-tensioning") were improperly sealed. The cables corroded, the concrete cracked, the entire building's safety was compromised. Much gnashing of lawyers' teeth, many downcast eyes at insurance brokerages, multiple fingers pointed, but everything was eventually settled without litigation or public admission of who bit the bullet.

Comes now a "Demolition Overview," which begins by promising (thank goodness) that the demise of the McGuire, at Second Avenue and Wall Street, will not involve explosives. Instead, Lease Crutcher Lewis, the general contractor for the jinxed building's dismantling, intends to use "Mass Demolition," hydraulic excavators that "munch" concrete and reduce it to cobblestone-size pieces.

First off, they'll take down the garage. Piece of cake, relatively. It's a classic, four-level concrete spiral atop the offices of the building's owner, the Carpenters Union. Next, they'll take out the elevators, so that the shafts become giant garbage chutes. Then, by hand, aided by mini-excavators, they'll start taking the building apart, beginning at the top and shoving the debris down through the elevator shafts.

There's no basement, so they'll use the garage footprint as the staging area for a parade of dump trucks. Seattle's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will issue the permit, but Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT) will regulate the traffic patterns: where the trucks will wait until it's their turn, how many trips per day, what route they'll follow out of Belltown. The document specifies that the trucks will follow a "circular" route so they won't make that piercing "beep-beep" noise when they back up.

Noise, in fact, is a big concern for the neighborhood, Seattle's most densely populated. So is dust, so is any disruption in traffic. (In fact, any downtown residential building with more than 80 units is subject to the State Environmental Policy Act.)

The site will be surrounded by plywood to mitigate noise; debris will be lowered gently into the parade of dump trucks, the excavating machines will "mist" the concrete to reduce hazardous clouds.

When will it all start? Not yet specified, because the city's Department of Transportation still needs to issue permits for the trucks. Lease Crutcher's permitting consultant for the project, Larry Allen, says the actual tear-down (once the permitting process is complete) could take nine months, whether the start date is February 2011 or 2012.

Ironically, while the McGuire is coming down, sink by sink, shower by shower, a 19-story project is going up just a block away (on the Musicians Union site at 3rd Avenue and Cedar Street), and it's being developed by Harbor Properties, the original developers of the McGuire. There's also a request in the hopper to allow a 25-story project across Third (on the Washington Lung Association property). Won't be long until a developer puts together something for the Rite-Aid site at 3rd and Vine, by which time the McGuire site will be all graded and pristine, ready for its own second chance at high-rise glory.

Seattle writer Ronald Holden blogs at Cornichon.org. He can be reached at editor@crosscut.com.


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