In about 10 seconds Sunday, a 77-year chapter in Provo history came to an end as the Provo Power smokestacks were demolished.
Crowds gathered in viewing areas north and south of the towers on Freedom Boulevard to watch the spectacle. There was a buzz in the air, and not just from the numerous drones flying to capture the moment.
Shortly after 7 a.m., officials gave a 1-minute warning to the audience. A minute later, there was a sudden 3-second warning and then the demolition began.
Although it was brief, many were awed as the air reverberated with a loud bang. After the earth shook briefly, the two iconic structures slowly tilted before gravity took hold and finished the job to the shouts and cheers of those gathered.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, according to Lindsey Wake. She attended the event with her husband, Craig, and their three sons.
“It was quite exciting,” Wake said. “I was surprised by the jolt. It was neat.”
Craig Wake, who is originally from Great Britain, said it was great.
“It was over very quickly,” Craig Wake said. “It was like 3-2-1-bang.”
Lindsey Wake said the event was surreal, as she grew up in the area and her father works for Provo Power.
“As long as I could see the towers, I could find my way anywhere in Provo,” Wake said.
Assistant Power Director Scott Bunker said the demolition went perfectly and praised the work of the three companies that helped facilitate the demolition — Layton Construction, Grant MacKay Construction and CDI Demolition Experts.
"They fell right where they said they would fall," Bunker said.
He said he felt some angst watching the detonation from the command center north of the site. Sunday’s display was the culmination of three years of work.
“We’ve been planning for those for a long time, and there’s a lot of concerns of ‘will they fall the right way or won’t they,’” Bunker said. “You always worry about that until the last moment.”
The slightly reinforced concrete and brick that made up the stacks kicked up a thick white cloud of dust that slowly spread from the site, not quite fully reaching the crowd that began to dissipate.
Bunker said there were no injuries and no unintended damage, aside from two broken windows at the neighboring Provo Recreation Center.
Bunker said the stacks’ demise was bittersweet for him and many other Provo Power employees. It was sad to see them go because they helped facilitate a lot of power generation early on and provided the city with a lot of benefit. On the other hand, he said the utility was excited for a new era of power generation.
“Those stacks have meant a lot to us,” Bunker said. “They’re representative of Provo Power.”
Provo Power wanted to make sure to help current and former employees participate in the demolition. Parts of the viewing areas were dedicated to utility employees and their families.
Bunker, a 24-year veteran of the utility, said some employees have been on the job 30 or 40 years. Other former employees worked at the plant 50 years ago.
“It’s a very important thing to them because it represents their careers,” he said. “It represents their livelihoods and who they are.”
Bunker said the community turnout was as big as the utility expected. A lot of people in the community cared about the towers and the utility.
“These stacks mean a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “We were very cognizant and we wanted to be sure to include them in this process as well.”
Spectators Sunday included Mayor John Curtis. He said people worked very hard for this moment and joked before the demolition that it had better go right.
Curtis said the stacks were an icon representing many decades of work.
“On one hand, it’s sad to see them go,” he said. “On the other hand, it represents progress, the future and many good things ahead.”
The crowd slowly trickled in during the hour before the demolition. Jacky Barlow and two of her children, Quinn and Katrina, were among the first to arrive at about 5:45 a.m. She said the towers were iconic of Provo and fondly remembered the weather lights atop the structures.
“When you think of Provo, you think of the smokestacks,” Barlow said.
Barlow’s children had different views of the structures. Quinn, 12, said he never paid much attention to them other than they’re tall. Katrina, 9, was nonchalantly dismissive of the demolition.
“They’re here just to see things blow up,” Barlow said. “I’m here to say goodbye.”
Craig and Debbie Costello came up from Spanish Fork to see the spectacle. Utah Valley residents of 45 years, Craig Costello remembered being driven around the stacks for a possible painting job. Debbie Costello noted the passage of time.
“I just think of a bygone era,” she said. “This type of power is in the past. It’s obsolete.”
The crowd also included a phalanx of people wielding cameras to capture the moment. A number of people manned remote controls to guide aerial drones around the smokestacks.
Dave Simpson of Lehi had his camera set up to capture the moment. Bunker previously invited him to take photos atop the structures when scaffolding was erected earlier this summer for asbestos removal by Eagle Environmental.
Simpson recalled seeing old ladders and embossed letters on the superstructures. He praised the artisanship of those who built the stacks.
“These people knew how to build,” he said.
Blazing a new path
The smokestacks loomed over the Provo skyline for 77 years. The north tower was built in 1939. The south tower was added about 10 years later. They were originally paired with a coal-fired plant, but Bunker said the plant was switched to natural gas about 20 years ago.
Although they hosted communications equipment in recent years, the stacks were last used for their intended purpose in 2000 during a power crunch.
Provo Power previously looked to save the stacks as an icon on the city’s skyline, according to Bunker. Unfortunately, the independent engineering studies showed the structures were deficient and failed to meet any seismic codes.
“For that reason, even if we spent which would’ve been upwards of $2 million per stack to reinforce them, even in a minor seismic event, the stacks would still probably fall apart,” Bunker said. “So we figured at this point, rather than invest that money and waste it, we thought it would be better to go ahead and control when those stacks come down now in a safe situation and circumstance where we can dictate what happens and how it happens.”
Sunday’s demolition marks the final chapter in the old power plant. Provo Power previously removed the old plant building and its offices and warehouse on the site in preparation of rebuilding the Freedom Boulevard campus.
Bunker said the new office and garage should be ready in two months. The municipal utility is building a new, cleaner and more efficient natural-gas plant that it hopes to have built by next year. He said the new plant, which will be smaller and quieter than its predecessor, will operate as an emergency supply for essential city services during a disaster, including the hospital, city hall and the recreation center.
“It will be a great amenity to the city. It’s a great backup,” Bunker said.