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Denver Bids Fond Farewell to Mile High Stadium

Tue May 21, 2002 - West Edition
Troy M. Hawks

What once stood a mile high, is now six feet under.

Crews of the Spirtas Wrecking Company of St. Louis wrapped up the $3-million demolition of Denver’s Mile High Stadium April 17. All that remains of the revered stadium, which stood at exactly 5280-ft. above sea level, is its concrete, which was pulverized and used as fill for the parking lot that replaces it.

Once the home of the Denver Broncos football team, Mile High didn’t come down without a struggle, as president of the Spirtas Wrecking company Eric J. Spirtas explained. First off, not everyone is a fan of a demolition company that rips down places people love. And Bronco fans loved Mile High Stadium, which gained a reputation as one of the noisiest and most intimidating NFL stadiums for visiting teams.

“Any time that you’re dealing with a landmark such as Mile High Stadium there are a lot of emotions involved, people don’t always want to see you come in with a wrecking ball and demolish the structure. Still you have to get past that and figure out a way to bring down the stadium as smoothly as possible,” said Spirtas.

Contrary to popular hopes, there were no explosions or implosions, no collapsing concrete or crashing steel at Mile High like there was with the demolition of the Kingdome in Seattle and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, also jobs performed by Spirtas. According to Spirtas, Mile High demanded a more methodical approach conducted with giant machinery capable of delicate work. Crews started by using wrecking balls and hydraulic excavators with enormous claws that clamped down and sliced through the stadium’s concrete ramps and steel girders ’like a hammer crushes a peanut,” said Spirtas.

“We initiated the project by making cuts and removing small pieces of the structure that would eventually drop large sections, but as it is with any project things happen as you plan and things don’t happen as you plan,” Spirtas said. “What was unique about this project is that as it developed, not only did we have to quickly adjust and change our methods of bringing it down, we had to adhere to the local codes and regulations, that was the most difficult part of the project.”

To make matters worse, a fire broke out and destroyed seats, ceilings and carpeting in the west stands of Mile High Stadium in late January, just days after crews initiated the demolition project. In all, the fire burned a 100- by 100-ft. section of the second deck, including enclosed seats in the club level. Demolition crews were working in the area where the blaze occurred but no injuries were reported.

Forty-four firefighters responded, extinguishing the blaze within 30 minutes. The stadium’s sprinkler system had already been turned off because of the demolition but the fire never grew large enough to threaten Invesco Field at Mile High, the new Bronco stadium which stands just a few yards away. Fire officials were not able to determine the exact cause of the blaze although some suspected that a welder inadvertently started the fire.

“Overall this project went well, without safety incident, on time, and on budget, mainly because we planned the job, prepared contingency plans, and worked closely with the city of Denver engineers to coordinate and lay out the demolition process,” said Spirtas. “When the demolition plan changes in the field, we must work with the city engineers to gain approval and authorization on the backup plan.”

He went on to explain that Mile High was a very complicated structural steel building that required non-explosive systematic dismantlement. Yet despite the fact that Spirtas had to adjust its demolition plan and despite the on-the-fly changes in plans, the company still performed the expedited project on time, on budget and safely.

Knocking down sports facilities in the heart of Denver isn’t new to Spirtas. His company tore down McNichols Arena a year and a half ago. They didn’t blow up that building either, but used the same equipment they used on Mile High. The entire project, from removing asbestos inside the old Mile High, to ripping down the stadium, to placing a parking lot over the site, took about nine months.

Spirtas estimates that in all the project created 18,000 cu. yds. (13,762 cu m) of material, 85 percent of which will end up being recycled. Concrete that isn’t used for the parking lot will be taken elsewhere for crushing and reuse. The company will sell the steel to a scrap dealer who will ship it to a steel mill for recycling.

At first Denver’s Metropolitan Football Stadium district officials had hoped to tear down Mile High prior to Invesco’s opening, but Denver Mayor Wellington Webb wanted the old stadium available should any problems delay the opening of the new facility. With that, stadium district officials decided to hold off on demolition until season’s end, because tear-down work in the middle of the season would create a hazard for fans milling around Invesco.

“In spite of our normal contractual obligations to the owner, OSHA and EPA and the project general contractor on this and other projects like this, our real responsibility on this project was to the local city demolition agency that has mass involvement in the evaluation of all Denver demolition contractors plans,” Spirtas said.

In the end, Spirtas said, he remains proud and enthusiastic about an industry that he said has gained respect in recent years, as people have come to appreciate the expertise needed for demolition jobs. He also noted that wrecking firms like his are increasingly called upon for difficult rescues, such as when people are trapped in a damaged building such as the recent tragedy at the World Trade Center.

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