Garage takes fall for progress

Mercy Medical Center parking area to topple tomorrow

October 06, 2007|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun reporter

Over the last few months, Mark Loizeaux has often parked in the Mercy Medical Center garage, among the many visitors on their way to see ailing relatives or new mothers. But Loizeaux wasn't there to make social calls. He was in the garage to figure out how to blow it up.

Loizeaux is a licensed "blaster," a professional who packs explosives into buildings and then makes the buildings disappear. If demolition is an art, as Loizeaux says it is, then implosion is its most dramatic form. He has brought down, in seconds, the Seattle Kingdome, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma and numerous fading hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.

Tomorrow, he will demolish the 10-story Mercy garage on Calvert Street, and, as with his other projects, he is notably unsentimental to see it go. Asked about his memories of the place, he says dryly, "It was really important to get your ticket stamped, or else it was 20 bucks."

Twenty-four hours after the garage comes down, Loizeaux will be on a plane to South Korea for another demolition. After that, he will take down the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. Last week he was in England, blowing up four cooling towers at a nuclear plant. The week before was Beirut.

"It just makes you smile," he says of the work and the forces that tear buildings apart.

This week, for a change, he is at home. Loizeaux is president of the Baltimore County-based Controlled Demolition Inc., a family operation that pioneered the use of explosives to bring down buildings. His father, Jack Loizeaux, founded the company in the '50s, and the young Loizeaux would hide behind the seat of his dad's pickup to go along on jobs.

"If you want to see your pop, you go to where your pop is," says Loizeaux (pronounced luh-WA-zo), now 60, an unassuming man in jeans and blue oxford shirt on a recent morning when he inspected the Mercy garage and issued final instructions. Drill here, he said. Jackhammer there.

There was never any doubt he would go into the family business. "When I was 10 years old, I was drawing delay patterns for my dad using colored pencils," he says. His father was a forestry worker who realized he could more easily remove tree stumps by blasting them. Then he realized other, bigger things could be removed with explosives, too.

In the Mercy garage, workers have drilled 1,300 holes that will be filled with explosives come Sunday morning. Loizeaux won't say how much explosive will be used. "There are things that Homeland Security doesn't like us to talk about," he says.

Explosives in the center of the garage will be set off first, so, taking advantage of gravity, the building will fold in on itself. Some 5,000 feet of cable strung through the garage will also guide it as it falls. It's a technique the Loizeaux family has perfected over thousands of demolitions.

"Structures are a lot like people," Loizeaux says. "We get tired, and structures get tired. The two most strenuous times in a structure's life are the two most strenuous times in a person's life - birth and death."

Many precautions are taken. Eight feet of soil will cover Calvert Street, adjacent to the garage, to protect utilities underneath. A sheer curtain will be raised over the facades of nearby buildings to catch concrete particles. Eight seismographs will be set up around the site to measure vibrations.

It will all happen at, or very close to, 7:30 a.m., when there will be the least traffic and business. In each town, that time varies. In Las Vegas, for example, Loizeaux takes buildings down at 2:30 in the morning on Tuesdays. That's when city officials say gambling ebbs. He's done all major demolitions in Vegas since 1993: the Stardust, Sands, Dunes, Hacienda, Aladdin, Landmark and Boardwalk Hotel & Casino.

A certain showmanship is expected with Vegas demolitions. They are usually accompanied by fireworks and a big countdown clock on the side of the building that's coming down. But the conservative Loizeaux, who doesn't even gamble when he goes to Vegas, seems a little uncomfortable with all the hoopla.

"I have had people ask me to juggle sticks of dynamite for the cameras, and my answer is no," he says. "This is not entertainment. This is not a parade."

His multimillion-dollar company has just 12 employees - including three of his four children - who work out of a house converted into offices in Phoenix. It sits on 48 acres near Loch Raven Reservoir. Both Mark Loizeaux and his brother, Doug Loizeaux, vice president of the company, have homes on the land.

The brothers trade off on projects. While Mark is in charge on the Mercy garage this week, Doug was in Texas bringing down an amusement park ride. The previous week, when Mark was in England, Doug was in Chicago demolishing a building for a scene in the next Batman movie. But, whenever possible, they stop by each other's projects to consult.

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