The four towers at the east end of the skyline will soon be reduced to three, creating a gap to those accustomed to the view, like losing a tooth in the city’s broad smile.
One of the exhaust stacks at Madison Gas & Electric Co.’s Blount Street power plant, 717 E. Main St., on the Near East Side, is being torn down. The stack on the western end, built in 1922, is no longer needed since the power plant, which dates back to 1902, had its fuel source switched from coal to natural gas in 2011. The stack also is deteriorating, the utility said.
Preliminary work began in May, erecting a scaffolding that rings the tower and will run its entire height: 244 feet. Plastic enclosures will be installed at the top and bottom to encase the dust and debris, MGE spokesman Steve Schultz said.
The contractors, Robinson Brothers, of Waunakee, will then knock down the tower, from the top down, using jackhammers or similar equipment, Schultz said.
The scaffolding is expected to be complete by the end of June; demolition is expected to start in July and won’t be completed until October, he said.
Asked why MGE chose not to use explosives and blow up the structure from within, Schultz said safety and the environment were high priorities.
“It’s a lengthy process but it’s the safest way to do it, from talking with the contractors and engineers,” he said.
Crews will be on the job from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and it may be noisy, Schultz said. But he said because of the enclosure, there won’t be any clouds of dust or scattering debris.
Because the Blount Street power plant is in a historic district and on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Madison Landmarks Commission had to agree to the demolition, as did the state Public Service Commission.
In an application to the Landmarks Commission in June 2016, MGE said the stack, built 95 years ago, was designed to last 40 years. While it was in service, hot exhaust gases kept moisture from being absorbed into the masonry structure but since it became obsolete in 2011, the changing weather cycles have caused damage.
MGE spent $130,000 to deal with loose paint and asbestos in 2014, the application said.
In 2015, a “large, vertical crack” was found on the south side of the stack, and in 2016 a steel reinforcement band broke off the stack.
Calling it an “obsolete and decaying structure,” MGE said it has blocked access to the courtyard at the Blount Street plant for fear of falling materials and the utility is “concerned that there is a risk of a catastrophic unplanned collapse of the stack.”
Safe demolition of the tower is “in the best interest of the public,” MGE said.
Cost of the project: $2 million, Schultz said.
A second exhaust stack also is no longer used but Schultz said there are “no plans at this time to remove any other stacks.” The second one houses communications equipment for MGE employees, he said.
Adjacent to the stacks is a metal-framed building extension that houses a peregrine falcon nest near the top. Schultz said the work will not disrupt the falcon pair or their four chicks that hatched in May.
But the view of Madison will be slightly altered.
“It really is kind of an iconic piece of Madison and the skyline,” Schultz said.