Looking Back and Moving Forward: A Reflection on the Implosion of 2010
by Mary J. Mullarkey
arly on a Sunday morning in August 2010, my family and I made our way to the rooftop patio of the Denver News Agency building, at 101 W. Colfax. Then, as now, the building was the temporary home of the Colorado Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the State Court Administrator’s Office. Although we arrived by 6:30 a.m., there were already more than 20 people assembled to watch the implosion of the State Judicial Building scheduled for 8 a.m.
An air of anticipation built as people continued to arrive, many carrying coffee and pastries. From our vantage point, we looked south across Civic Center at the five-story judicial building, facing 14th Avenue between Broadway and Lincoln. The building had been stripped to its skeleton, with only its cement floors and steel structure remaining. The Colorado History Museum, which had occupied the 13th Avenue side of the block, had been demolished and the debris removed. Only a large hole remained where the museum once stood.
The streets surrounding the site were blocked off to restrict vehicular and pedestrian access. Employees of the demolition contractor patrolled the area to ensure that the site was cleared and viewers were at a safe distance.
In the planning stage of the demolition, concerns had been raised that implosion of the State Judicial Building might damage the venerable state Capitol, located a few hundred feet uphill from the demolition site. The experts assured us that the Capitol would not be harmed, and we had confidence in a good outcome based on the successful record of the contractor for safely demolishing hundreds of buildings worldwide. Nevertheless, I had a twinge of apprehension as the implosion time approached.
After 7 a.m., communications increased among the contractor’s employees monitoring the perimeter. The employee stationed at our patio was easily identified by his hard hat, reflector vest, and walkie-talkie, and we could hear him sending and receiving monitoring reports. As a joke, my husband asked the employee if his company worked at Cape Canaveral. The employee laughed and, in a serious vein, told us that his company had contracted with NASA to demolish the shuttle launch pad after the last shuttle mission is flown. Knowing that rocket scientists had chosen our contractor, I smiled inwardly, confident that the implosion would go as planned.
Soon, we were at the countdown to 8 a.m. Exactly on time, we heard a large concussion. For an instant, the entire building was raised up and then it fell to the south in a great cloud of dust. Although it sounded like a single explosion to my ears, it was a series of precisely timed explosions that brought the building down. The dust cloud blew in our direction, and we could see nothing more.
Removal of the debris took several days, however. From my office, I saw a parade of empty semi-trailers round the corner at Colfax and Broadway and disappear into the demolition site to be loaded with the broken steel and concrete.
Now, a year has passed since the old building was imploded. The Capitol was not injured by the explosion and construction of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center is well underway. The 12-story office building facing 13th Avenue was topped off in June. Its exterior “skin” of granite and precast materials is being put in place. The four-story courthouse, facing 14th Avenue on the site of the old State Judicial Building, was topped off in early July. The exterior of the new courthouse will be gray granite to match, as nearly as possible, the exterior of the Capitol. The shape of the granite blocks on the courthouse and on the lower portion of the office building picks up design features of both the Capitol and the Colorado Department of Education.
It was exciting to watch the implosion of the old building, especially seeing the brief moment when the building rose out of the ground. We witnessed a dramatic step toward the completion of the Judicial Center in the spring of 2013. D
Mary J. Mullarkey is a retired Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.