LIMESTONE, Maine — In a perfect world, Jennifer Gregor, operations manager and marketing coordinator for Engineered Products Co. Inc. said Saturday afternoon, the 64-year-old heat plant at the former Loring Air Force Base would have been reduced to a pile of rubble by 11:05 a.m.
But that is not what happened, and project officials behind the controlled building implosion said Saturday evening that despite the fact that the company that placed the explosive charges used a higher than normal amount because of the number of steel beams and columns in the building, it was still not enough to level the plant.
“Unfortunately, the results were not what we anticipated,” Gregor said Saturday evening.
“This weekend, we will be formulating a plan to take down the remainder of the building, and we will begin doing that next week. The plan will not include more explosives.”
The event was touted by Portland-based Engineered Products as the largest implosion ever in the state, It was supposed to take just six seconds for officials to bring down the structure. After the implosion was conducted and the cloud of dust that came after settled, however, much of the building remained standing and several members of the crowd were asking if there was going to be a second explosion.
Approximately 300 people crowded onto the former base, which is now known as the Loring Commerce Centre, for the 11 a.m. demolition ceremony. Onlookers were handed informational sheets prepared by Engineered Products welcoming them to what they called the “Maine Event.” Most of them were clutching video and digital cameras, and several said they planned to post the videos on social networking sites and on YouTube.
The public was sheltered under a tented viewing stand 1,200-feet from the blast zone.
In a controlled building implosion, large structures are turned into a pile of rubble through a series of timed and carefully placed explosive charges which drop the building straight down without damaging any nearby structures. Precision Explosives, the company in charge of placing the charges, used 290 pounds of dynamite with 105 blasting caps.
“We talked extensively with officials from Precision Explosives,” said Gregor. “They told us that they likely would need to use more charges simply because this was such a strong building.”
Officials had said that viewers would see the collapse of the building’s five smoke stacks, followed by the sight of the building itself falling away in a huge cloud of dust. The tallest smoke stack was 230 feet.
On Saturday, three of the smoke stacks fell away, and some of the building crumbled. A portion of the back and sides of the building gave way, but the majority of the structure remained standing. Even some of the windows in the old plant were unbroken.
It was the biggest demolition project ever for Engineered Products, according to company officials, although the company has been involved with similar projects throughout the state and along the East Coast.
The heat plant is a sealed building constructed of steel support beams. Crews started prepping the building for the explosion approximately six weeks ago, removing all hazardous material and cutting the steel for the installation of the shaped charges that directed the building to fall in the designated direction. The nearest occupied building to the old heat plant was 1,000 feet away.
The heat plant was shut down in 1994. It provided coal-powered heat and hot water to more than 10,000 officers, airmen, dependents and civilians who lived and worked on the base over the years.
Loring BioEnergy, which has plans for developing new energy infrastructure on the site, currently owns the building.
Engineered Products is a demolition and concrete cutting company specializing in commercial and industrial demolition. The company, operating since 1975, hired locally for the steel cutting work inside the building and Precision Explosives brought in their own crew from New York.
Kim McLaughlin, who lives in Boston, Mass., grew up in central Aroostook County and decided to plan her summer visit around the implosion. Her twin boys, Conner and Carter, 12, are “science geeks,” she said before the implosion.
Carter McLaughlin said he planned to videotape the event and use it as part of a school science project when he returns to Massachusetts.
Much of the crowd lingered after the event, waiting to see if more blasting would take place.
Gregor eventually told the crowd that they were evaluating the situation and that nothing more would happen Saturday. She noted that she had been told by a few people in the crowd that the fact that the entire building didn’t implode was a testament to its strength and structural integrity. It was built in 1947 and functioned on the military base throughout the Cold War years.
“We think that the building was just built very soundly,” she said Saturday evening. “This was a military facility, and the building was constructed to withstand a bombing. But this is just something we are speculating about. No one has told us that.”
Mark Thibodeau, a Presque Isle resident, said he was “stunned” that the building didn’t fall down.
“Obviously, something went wrong somewhere,” he said after the implosion. “It looks like they didn’t calculate the amount of explosives correctly. I can’t believe it.”
James Henderson, a Caribou resident, agreed.
“I think we all saw that there was a miscalculation somewhere,” he said. “Old buildings that are more sound than this are successfully brought down all the time. From what I read, we were going to see the thing sort of cave in everywhere. That definitely didn’t happen. Still, I think a lot of people were glad they came out to see it. We watched a part of history disappear.”
Gregor said that she could not discuss the cost of the project. She said that it was funded by “private enterprise” and that no taxpayer funding was used. Gregor said officials would not know how much more it would cost to demolish the building now that the initial implosion failed until a solid plan for dismantling it is formulated.
Crews with wrecking balls and other equipment will begin dismantling the building, piece by piece, next week, according to Gregor.
Engineered Products will cut, process and remove all of the remaining steel once the building is down. After that happens, it will be sold for salvage. Officials estimated that it would take approximately two months to clear all of the debris away.