WIUM Tristates Public Radio

"A Beautiful Implosion" of Higgins Hall

Jul 1, 2017

It cost Western Illinois University $7.3 million to build Higgins Hall, a residence hall that opened in the fall of 1967.  The university said it would cost around $48 million today to renovate it into a "like-new" facility, so instead the building was imploded Saturday morning during an event that drew hundreds of people to the Macomb campus.

“Everything went exactly as planned,” said David Gaines, Site Supervisor for Spirtas Wrecking Company of St. Louis, MO. “There are no issues with our debris pile. Everything stayed inside the fence like we needed it to and like we wanted it to. It couldn’t have gone any better.

“I would say it’s a beautiful implosion.”

FEH Design, which has offices in Iowa and Wisconsin, helped with planning for the demolition.

The ceremonial implosion plunger. Higgins Hall looms in the background.
Credit Jonathan Ahl

“We were the architects and engineers that designed the documents for the implosion,” said FEH’s Don Seymour. “There really is no better entity to be able to bring a building down than the folks who know how to put them together and put them up.”

He said the company also developed “intensive initiatives for recycling and waste diversion” so that 90% of the building debris will get a new use instead of ending up in a landfill.

Higgins was 20 stories tall, making it the tallest building on the Macomb campus.   

Rich Egger, Emily Boyer, Jonathan Ahl, and Baylee Brynteson collaborated on TSPR’s coverage of the Higgins Hall implosion.

Marc Stone of Los Angeles holds a plaque that contains the room number from his room in Higgins Hall from the mid-90s. Behind him is where Higgins Hall stood just minutes before.
Credit Jonathan Ahl

Marc Stone lives in Los Angeles. He was a Resident Assistant in Higgins Hall from 1994 to 1997. “This is an example of school spirit. I’m seeing different generations out here talking about this place. I didn’t think a dorm would have such significance.”

Western alumni Charlie and Angie Boe have been married 40 years after first meeting at Western. Angie lived in Higgins from '71-'73. “It was my first experience being on my own and being away from home. I had a roommate that I didn’t meet until my first day. It was a wonderful experience. We got to be really close. I lived on the 16th floor and most of the girls up there were wonderful.”
Credit Emily Boyer

Charlie and Angie Boe live in Woodstock, IL. They said they have been trying to find time to come back to visit campus and this weekend fit both of their schedules. “It’s bringing back a lot of memories I kind of forgot. It’s good to be here.” They said the campus has changed, but “it’s still the same Western, still good people.”

Mary Jo Siez of Springfield, standing in front of Higgins Hall minutes before its implosion. She lived on the ninth floor the first year the dorm was open in 1967.
Credit Jonathan Ahl

Mary Jo Siez is from Springfield. She lived in Higgins Hall during the first year it was open in 1967. She has great memories of her year living on the ninth floor. “So many of my pictures are of birthday cakes. We must have celebrated everyone’s birthday.” The event also helped her connect with her roommate and other floor mates she hadn’t talked to in decades.

It will take about four months to clear the debris left from the implosion. Western will turn the area into green space.
Credit Baylee Brynteson

The aftermath as viewed from a drone.
Credit Courtesy of Bruce McCormack