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What went up would not come down

By KEN ROSS

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A New York firm specializing in the implosion of high-rises pushed the plunger twice on a 10-story public housing structure Sunday -- but the concrete hulk refused to fall.

Precision Implosives of Wantagh, N.Y., expected the building to come down in a matter of seconds when, at 8:30 a.m., it detonated 650 pounds of explosives embedded in the first and second floors of the Hartford Park housing project building.

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A thunderous sound erupted and a cloud of dirt and debris shot out from the base of the T-shaped, steel-reinforced structure, but it stood stock-still.

The firm then planted dynamite near the stairwells at each end of the T, believed to be the only thing holding up the 36-year-old high-rise at that point.

The plunger went down a second time at 1:30 p.m. The building dropped an estimated 30 feet and pitched forward about 20 degrees. But again, it would not come down.

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After the second failure, the city said it would spend the next 24 hours assessing the stability of the building then bring in a wrecking ball. The job is now expected to take two to three weeks, said Stephen J. O'Rourke, director of the Providence Housing Authority.

'I have been with the Housing Authority two years, three months and 21 days and I never expected anything like this would happen,' O'Rourke said.

David R. Evans, Precision president and a former Air Force bomb-disposal expert, said he has dropped about two dozen buildings in the past and never had a major problem with one.

He added, however, that the Hartford Park high-rise presented a unique challenge.

'It's built like a honeycomb, really,' Evans said. 'There are a multitude of cubicles and they are all interlocked. It was just the way the building was put together. It fell 30 feet and it still stayed together.'

Police evacuated people in nearly 20 homes close to the building prior to the implosion effort. Most of the residents were allowed to return, but those in homes closest to the leaning hulk were told to stay with relatives for the next several weeks or accept accommodations provided by the city.

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A middle school near the high-rise will remain open, though the area in front of it will be closed off. The crippled high-rise is leaning away from the school, O'Rourke said.

Evans began preparing the building for implosion weeks ago. Crews drilled 1,800 holes into the 9-inch thick walls and packed them with dynamite.

The building was made with 7,500 tons of poured concrete and reinforced with 250 tons of steel rod. Unlike most buildings, it was not constructed with interior, weight-bearing columns, Evans said.

The implosion effort was part of a $26.3 million modernization of Hartford Park. The housing authority wants to demolish two other 10-story high-rises in the project and replace the units with low-rise housing, though some affordable housing advocates have filed a suit challenging any further demolition.

Evans said he feels he could successfully implode the two other high-rises, although he declined to say what he would do differently.

O'Rourke said the city would determine later how the other buildings might come down. It is paying more than $780,000 for the demolition of the one now leaning.

O'Rourke said the city would look into whether it is liable to pay for the implosion portion of its contract, though he speculated that it is.

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