Mercy demolition puts on a show

Calvert St. hospital's parking garage razed

October 08, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

This is the way the Mercy Medical Center parking garage ended: not with a whimper, but a bang.

And a bang.

And a bang.

And still more bangs.

In mere seconds, the 10-story garage on Calvert Street collapsed into itself and passed into memory, leaving behind a crater-like hole, thousands of tons of rubble and, in the air and everywhere, clouds of fine dust.

"This is step No. 1," said Dan Collins, senior director of media relations for the medical center. Once the site is cleared - a process that will take about a month, he said - plans for the new 18-story medical tower on the site can move forward. Groundbreaking for the tower, expected to open in 2010, is scheduled for the spring, he said.

For those who didn't know what was coming, the explosive blasts at about 7:30 a.m. surely served as an unexpected alarm clock. The booming jolted anyone in the vicinity - and its ultimate effect elicited gasps, cheers and clapping from a crowd gathered atop Mercy's newly constructed garage, about a block away from the old one.

A mix of hospital executives, administrators, doctors, volunteers, other employees and their families came for the show. Breakfast - fruit, muffins and doughnuts - was served near the top-floor elevator of the new garage.

Party favors also abounded, creating a festive atmosphere that rivaled New Year's Eve. A basket of Pop Rocks candy and John Deere-themed party blowers made the rounds, in honor of the explosion to come, as did another with disposable Kodak cameras.

"You don't get to see buildings being blown up that often," said Kevin Buerger, whose brother-in-law works with Potts & Callahan, a Baltimore-based bulk excavation company involved in the demolition, which was carried out by Baltimore County-based Controlled Demolition Inc.

Joseph Costa, medical director of Mercy's intensive care unit, brought his sister and nephews along.

The kids had looked forward to the event all week, he and his sister, Jean Costa, said.

"They were excited and up early and ready to see the building fall," Jean Costa said.

The adults shared their enthusiasm.

"We're excited about what we're going to be able to do here now," Joseph Costa said. "I just think it's so great for the downtown area."

Minutes later, after a set of warning sirens, loud blasts punched the air, punctuated by flashes of orange light. The cacophony rattled the innards of those watching. Dust began to emerge from the building's core, even as the explosions continued, breaking down floor after floor, until the structure finally crumbled.

The crowd cheered and shouted. Some young children cried.

But everyone soon scattered when a cloud of fine particles closed in on the makeshift viewing deck. Running for cover, the spectators grabbed surgical masks provided by hospital officials.

"Hey, Zachary, how'd you like that?" shouted Charles Holub to his 2-year-old grandson, who was on the other side of the garage roof with his mother and Buerger, his uncle.

When the air finally cleared, a few people returned to see the large space where the garage had stood. A layer of dust covered everything in sight, including a couple of trees across the street.

"I never expected it to be such a loud noise," said P.K. Bose, a Mercy surgeon, as he looked down at the site.

He wasn't the only one who was surprised.

Yesterday morning, the vendors at the farmers' market had set up their stands under the Jones Falls Expressway, as usual. Although several said they were warned about the demolition, many still weren't expecting the sudden dust cloud that filled the streets and lightly coated their trucks and stands - and some of their wares.

"It was scary," said Kerri Keller of Mount Harmony, which sells herbal soaps. When they saw the dust cloud coming, she and co-worker Lisa Inglisa quickly covered their multicolored soaps with paper and a tarp.

At 8 a.m., Heather Unkart of Uptown Bakers was laying out boxes of croissants, bread and muffins. Having been warned of the demolition, she had kept the food in the car.

Said Unkart: "Dust and bread don't mix."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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