In seconds, Southfield skyscraper reduced to dust

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Southfield — It started with six seconds of thunderous claps as 12 charges strategically placed throughout the vacant 17-story North Park Plaza building were set off.

Then, after an eerie two-second pause, 240,000 square feet of concrete, brick and steel collapsed into itself, floor by floor, landing in a pile of rubble and dust.

It was everything Ortonville 10-year-olds Daniel Fortino and Nick Bradburn had anticipated, and more. The boys were among about 400 people who turned out to watch the implosion.

"The best part was when the top two stories fell," said Daniel, who wondered, "How did they rig it so nothing else falls around it?"

"I thought it was gonna be one big bang and then the bottom would fall," said Nick, who like his friend Daniel is a fifth-grader at Brandon-Fletcher Intermediate School.

The unique event raised $12,000 for Oakland Community College, which auctioned off the right to push down the Wile E. Coyote-style plunger that detonated the charges. Besides the winning bid of $8,000, two other donors gave $2,000 each, said college spokeswoman Janet Roberts.

The winning bidder wished to remain anonymous, so the honor of starting the implosion went to Andrea Wilson, 26, who graduated from OCC's Oakland Police Academy on Thursday.

Wilson was thrilled that the money will go to the Oakland Community College Foundation to be used for scholarships.

"I was given a scholarship, and it helped me," Wilson said before pushing down the T-shaped lever mounted on top of a wooden box.

Vacant since 2010, the towering building on the south side of 9 Mile, east of Northwestern Highway, was home to many businesses and shops.

The implosion took place about 8:30 a.m. Cars started arriving before dawn. Spectators viewed the event from a parking lot about 1,000 feet from the doomed building.

Children, some wearing Santa caps or hard hats, milled around waiting for the action to start. Even some adults could barely contain their excitement.

"I just like seeing things explode," said Robert Knick Jr., 25, of Belleville, who got up at 5:30 Sunday morning to make it in time.

The implosion was 10 weeks in the planning, according to Jerry Decker, senior project manager with North American Dismantling Corp., who coordinated the project. Community meetings were held to inform neighbors about what was happening, and the Michigan State Police closed freeway lanes where drivers might be distracted by the sight of a falling building.

The building itself was stripped of drywall and wiring, and thoroughly swept and blown out with blowers to cut down on dust, Decker added. Gashes were cut in columns and then stuffed with explosives in such a way as to make the building fall toward the south, away from other buildings and spectators.

Finally, six seismographs were placed around the building to measure vibrations in the ground. Camera crews filmed the implosion from three vantage points for a record of exactly how the implosion was executed.

OCC Chancellor Timothy Meyer said the college wanted to involve students and the surrounding community in the process. The college doesn't have any immediate plans to build on the lot, but the building was vacant, deteriorating and needed to be torn down.

"We see it as supporting our community and students — that's what Oakland Community College is all about," Meyer said. "It's a fabulous day."

KBouffard@detroitnews.comDetroit News Staff Writer Kyla Smith contributed.