Partial building collapse means Washington Blvd. closed all week

February 6, 2019 GMT

STAMFORD — A demolition project in Stamford designed to cause minimal impact to surrounding traffic has created some commuter headaches in recent days.

The original plan for the tear-down of one of the three St. John’s Towers was to close one lane of Washington Boulevard, but safety concerns have led city officials to repeatedly close the entirety of the street between Tresser Boulevard and Main Street, and even caused Tresser Boulevard to close Tuesday night.

Transportation Bureau Chief Jim Travers and Chief Building Official Bharat Gami decided to close Tresser Boulevard around 7 p.m. Tuesday because the demolition crew was planning on knocking off the metal and steel cap at the top of the core structure in the middle of the building. The core was still mostly intact as floors around it have been torn down one by one over the last month.

Fearing the cap could land near the street, Travers and Gami decided the safest decision was to shutter the roadway, even though closing Tresser Boulevard was never included in the demolition plan.

“We always have public safety in mind with everything we do,” Travers said.

Previously, one of the upper floors of the structure collapsed on Monday night, and the demolition contractor, LVI Environmental Services Inc., noticed it Tuesday morning.

In response, Washington Boulevard was closed around noon on Tuesday to allow the demolition to continue safely.

With work ongoing, city officials anticipate Washington Boulevard will remain closed all week, with work expected to be completed by 8 p.m. Friday. Travers said the cost of hiring police officers to work detail on the closed road will be incurred by LVI.

Travers said the initial plan for the demolition was to be least disruptive to weekday traffic, which is why work was limited to only weekends.

“In hindsight, should I have made the call to close Washington Boulevard right from the get go? Maybe. But I didn’t do it because I was trying to make sure people could get to work,” he said.

Imploding the building, which could have happened in a shorter time span, was never on the table, Gami said.

The main reason is that the concrete in the tower contains polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, an organic compound banned in in the 1970s because of its toxicity. An explosive-induced demolition, Gami said, “would have thrown contaminated dust into the airway and polluted the entire city.”

Travers said with the impending shuttering of a portion of Atlantic Street scheduled for next week, getting the tower down low enough to open Washington Boulevard again is of paramount importance.

A portion of Atlantic Street just south of Interstate 95 will be closed for at least six months, starting Feb. 19, for the reconstruction of the Atlantic Street bridge. It will result in the closure of Atlantic Street between the south side of South State Street and Dock Street, and should create traffic buildup in one of the city’s busiest sectors.

“We’re asking the public to bear with us,” Travers said.

The demolition of one of the St. John’s Towers was expected to be complete after two weekends, but delays have stretched the work out into a month-long project.

The demolition of the tower started Jan. 11, and only the northbound right lane of Washington Boulevard was planned for closure. The first phase, which would involve taking down the upper floors, was expected to be completed by Jan. 21.

But, the tear-down was unexpectedly halted a few days later, as workers were concerned that concrete connected to exposed metal and rebar would become dislodged and fall to the ground.

Arthur Augustyn, spokesperson for Mayor David Martin, said that while Washington Boulevard has been closed for safety concerns, there was never a risk that the building would collapse. Instead, the concern was about the condition of the tower during the time when no work was being done.

“Because it was only weekend work, the city asked that the tower be left in a safe condition when it wasn’t being worked on,” Augustyn said, adding that there was a discrepancy between what the contractor considered a safe condition and what the city deemed to be safe.

Demolition crews are taking down the tower by knocking it down floor by floor with a high-reach excavator.

The other two towers, still occupied, are not being torn down.

The developer behind the tear-down and the 414-unit apartment building to replace it said he would have preferred to get the demolition done over one week instead of spacing it out as it has.

Demolitions are safest and best controlled “the quicker we can get it to ground,” said Greg Belew, divisional resident for the New York tri-state area for Lennar Multifamily Communities, a subsidiary of homebuilder Lennar.

“The city and the state (Department of Transportation) as well were constraining us to the weekend demolition,” he said.

Includes prior reporting by staff writer Barry Lytton.