Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Crews reducing Boettcher East to rubble

demolition of the Boettcher Center east wing

The east wing of DU's Boettcher Center is being demolished to make way for green space. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The east wing of the Boettcher Complex — a distinctive pre-cast concrete structure that has served the University’s science, engineering and research mission since 1962 — is coming down.

Crews from Colorado Excavating began demolishing the structure on Wednesday and should be finished by the weekend.

“Most of the debris will go to the landfill,” says company president James Dirkmaat. “It’s not recyclable, just concrete with mesh and aggregate.”

Crews previously cleansed the building of asbestos, which allowed the company’s excavator to use its serrated teeth to rip and grab and its bucket to bludgeon and smash.

“The weight of the bucket knocks down the building,” he says. “It’s a controlled fall.”

Visit Youtube to watch video of the work.

The demolition only involves the eastern portion of the Boettcher complex. The west wing and the auditorium have been renovated to provide new classroom arrangements and updated with improved heating, electrical, ventilation and safety systems.

The east wing, however, has remained a problem. Over time, water seeped into the permeable concrete panels on the outside of the building, which froze and cracked portions of the precast exterior. By the 1990s, the exterior panels were failing to the point of being hazards, according to University Architect Mark Rodgers. This required patching and repairs that altered the architectural character of the building and challenged its use. A review by the Board of Trustees concluded that the east wing did not “rise to the level of usefulness … to justify further investment” as did the west wing and auditorium.

“This building is not code compliant, its outer structure is failing and the building itself is functionally obsolete,” Craig Woody, vice chancellor for business and financial affairs, wrote earlier this year.

Boettcher East’s initial purpose was as office and classroom space and a science library to promote collaboration between science and engineering. The work particularly was aimed at Cold War weapons delivery, advanced computational systems and atmospheric measurements. But the library moved to Penrose in 1972 and over the years the building’s flaws became more apparent. Classrooms were substandard and not accessible for people with disabilities. Moreover, as the University’s teaching and research missions evolved, the wing became outdated, expensive to patch, and no longer of research or instructional importance.

A group of preservationists from Historic Denver felt otherwise and in April took steps to have the complex designated a landmark structure, citing the building’s mid-century Formalist architecture, connection to significant architects and role in regional World War II history. Landmark status would have prevented demolition of the east wing and imposed a net of process over what DU could do with the buildings, principally to the exterior.

The University opposed the designation, and after a series of public hearings and private negotiations, reached a compromise that allowed DU to proceed with demolishing the building’s east wing and using the area as south campus green space.

That was music to the ears of Dirkmaat, who has been razing buildings on the DU campus for seven years. When Dirkmaat looks at Ruffatto Hall, for example, he doesn’t see a building that in June opened as the new home of the Morgridge College of Education. What Dirkmaat sees is the two-story brick apartment that used to be there but that his company knocked down and dragged away along with a dozen other structures on the block.

He also sees the profits his company made tearing down DU buildings as recycling back to the University in tuition payments. That’s because in May, Dirkmaat earned a law degree from DU’s Sturm College of Law. On Oct. 8, he finds out if he passed the bar. 

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