Rising from the ashes – Potomac News Online

The Pentagon’s Phoenix project to rebuild its severely damaged areas is nearly complete, and 3,000 workers displaced by last year’s attacks are expected to be back at their desks by Sept. 11.

It has been a massive undertaking. The $501 million reconstruction project covers 2 million square feet. Fifty thousand tons of debris were removed from the site; 3,000 workers from 87 contractors and subcontractors worked 3 million man hours.

“For all intents and purposes, the [outer] E-ring is complete because we are occupying through all five floors,” said Phoenix spokeswoman Rachel Decker on a tour of the site for media on Aug. 30.

There are five rings to the Pentagon, with the A ring being the inner-most ring. Work continues in the C and D rings on the crash side.

“The drywall is done, the paint’s done. Really, all they’re doing now is pulling in the telephone lines and those kinds of things,” she said. “They’ll be bringing in the furniture over the next several months and occupying those spaces.”

Construction has proceeded quickly since Oct. 18, when demolition of the damaged area began. The project remained ahead of schedule: The first outer blast-resistant window was installed Feb. 15, and the last of the 4,000 limestone pieces was installed during a ceremony June 11.

“By Sept. 11, we’ll have 3,000 people of the 4,600 people moved back into Wedge 1,” said spokesman Brett Eaton, referring to the corner of the Pentagon to the right of the plane’s path into the building.

The Wedge 1 area had been under renovation and five days from completion when the attack occurred, said Phoenix deputy project manager Jean Barnak.

The plane came in low, at about a 45-degree angle, into Wedge 1, but the collision was somewhat cushioned because the outer wall had reinforced steel, which was installed as part of the upgrade. The plane pierced Wedge 2, whose wall had not been reinforced, Barnak said.

“We have several tenants who had been standing at their windows and the windows didn’t shatter and this whole structural frame supported the structure long enough for people to get out of there,” she said. “The portion of the building directly where the plane came in did not collapse for about 35 minutes.”

“This is where the plane hit,” Decker said, standing at the outer end of Corridor 4 that runs to the inner courtyard. On the side of the corridor is a room where an America’s Heroes Memorial has the names of victims etched in stone and a book with biographies of them. Next to it is a chapel.

Each of the exterior windows was made to look as if they can be opened, but they cannot. Barnak said the look is to meet specific standards, as the Pentagon is a historic landmark.

But each window, weighing about 2,000 pounds each, is welded into the steel grid that runs throughout the outer wall, she said.

Kevlar material is below the windows, hidden from the eye under the wall surface, to prevent concrete from becoming flying debris, she said.

“Blast resistant,” Barnak reminded. “Nothing is ever blast proof.”

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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