JBLM crew starts tearing down vacant building in downtown Olympia

Demolition began this week on a vacant building in downtown Olympia as part of a two-month military training exercise.

The project is seen as advantageous for the city and the 555th Engineer Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The brigade expects to recycle more than 60 percent of the materials from the city-owned building at 505 Fourth Ave. W. on the isthmus between Capitol Lake and West Bay. This week, the brigade has knocked down several walls inside the building while filling giant dumpsters with wood, scrap metal and dry wall.

The exterior will be demolished after the holidays. A ceremony with South Sound leaders and dignitaries will begin at 10 a.m. Jan. 6 before the hydraulic excavator tears down the structure.

Sgt. 1st Class David Richerson said the exterior demolition should take about one month, adding that most of those materials will also be recycled.

Much of the treated wood from the building’s interior staircases, for example, will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Jones, who was leading 22 brigade members on site Friday.

The project offers a rare training opportunity for deconstruction, Jones said. Typically, the military will build structures overseas, then demolish the buildings once their use is done.

Jones noted that the Olympia demolition offers good practice for removing wire and metal — two common materials for building roadside bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices.

“It’s not training they haven’t done,” Jones said of the brigade. “They usually just work on construction.”

The site is one of two city-owned buildings on the isthmus, with the other next door at 529 Fourth Ave. W. The city purchased the sites in 2013 for about $3.3 million. Project manager Brett Bures said the city is applying for federal grant money and plans to demolish the second building in 2015.

The city is saving an undetermined amount of money by not paying a contractor for the work, said Bures, adding that it is unknown whether JBLM will be involved with the next demolition.

Both buildings sit across from Bayview Thriftway and in the shadow of the nine-story Capitol Center Building, which is privately owned by Views on Fifth Ltd. and is not slated for demolition. Views on Fifth owners have expressed interest in turning the nine-story building into a hotel on the isthmus.