Demolition began on the John A. Widtsoe Building at the south end of BYU campus on Thursday, May 21. The nine-story building was the home of the College of Life Sciences and housed numerous laboratories, offices and classrooms.
The project will span the course of several weeks: two weeks to tear the building completely down and anywhere from three to seven weeks for crews to haul off all of the debris and material.
Once the property has been cleared, the leftover debris and material will be taken to an offsite location to be sorted through for recycling.
“The building was full of old stuff — furniture, cabinetry, copper piping,” said Okland Construction superintendent Ron Wilkins. “There’s a lot of scrap products, and probably 70 percent or more of the building can be recycled.”
Before demolition began, the construction company took several weeks removing all the hazardous materials within the building. Large amounts of asbestos were removed as well as thousands of fluorescent lightbulbs containing mercury.
“It’s taken more than a month to get to this point,” Wilkins said. “We’ve taken out everything that’s not environmentally friendly so it’s safe to raze the building.”
The building was ready to be torn down only after demolition crews got the green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dozens of students watched from the surrounding sidewalks as two high-reach demolition excavators started tearing down the face of the building.
“They’re strong enough to cut steel beams in half,” Wilkins said. “We’ll use them to reach up and grab on to the beams, which will help the whole building fall down.”
The 211,000 square-foot building was named after the late Elder John A. Widtsoe, a BYU teacher and scientist and an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Each floor housed a different area of study. Classrooms in the building’s basement were dedicated to marine biology and had 15 live aquariums lining the hallways.
When the Widtsoe Building was built in 1968, faculty and administrators of the College of Life Sciences did not foresee the importance of student mentoring.
“The Widtsoe Building was not designed with a lot of space for student interactions or collaborations. In fact — none,” said College of Life Sciences Dean James Porter. “If you go through the new Life Sciences Building, there’s lots of couches, chairs and whiteboards and you’ll see students sitting around doing homework, studying, talking together — there’s nothing like that in the Widtsoe Building.”
Also, the building wasn’t seismically sound.
“We had worries about earthquakes,” Porter said. “In terms of safety, it’s been difficult to meet all of the new safety regulations with the Widtsoe Building the government has put in place. The new Life Sciences Building meets all of these regulations.”
Once the space is cleared out, plans are to landscape the area so students and faculty have a better view of the new Life Sciences Building as well as direct sidewalks from the south end of campus to the surrounding buildings.
“It will give me and all the faculty here a lot better view of Mt. Timpanogos, that’s for sure,” Porter said. “But that’s not why we’re tearing down the building.”