Rebuilding the Pentagon
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
RAY SUAREZ: When a hijacked jetliner sliced into the Pentagon on September 11, Lee Evey was sitting in his office supervising the completion of the first phase of a 20-year, $1.2 billion renovation of the Pentagon.
LEE EVEY, Pentagon Renovation Program Manager: We were about five days from completing that process — a process that had taken us about three years. We were moving people in, following right behind the completion of the construction, and we were about half finished.
RAY SUAREZ: When Evey got to the crash site, he found the plane had crashed diagonally through a part of both the new renovation and the old building. Fire fed by 10,000 gallons of jet fuel was just beginning to spread.
Eventually it would damage two million square feet, almost a third of the building.
LEE EVEY: It just seemed like a box of puzzle parts that had been dumped on a table.
There seemed to be no rhyme, nor reason, to it at all. The people we had in the building are accustomed to constructing buildings, are accustomed to building them, not disassembling them and taking them apart.
We went out and we hired very, very quickly, overnight, some people who are experts in blast recovery. They had worked Mexico City, they had worked Oklahoma City, they had worked the earlier blast at the Twin Towers in New York, and got them on site as quickly as possible.
RAY SUAREZ: Chief among those hires was Alan Kilsheimer, a structural engineer with years of experience in blast recovery. He arrived on site the afternoon of the 11th and has been on the rebuilding job 18 hours a day since.
ALAN KILSHEIMER, Structural Engineer: They asked me to a., design it, b., be responsible to make sure it’s built the way we want it built.
And, I told them we had three rules. One is there are no rules except for my rules, and that they had to keep all the people with paper and all the bureaucrats out of my face. And they did that.
They’ve been… I’ve never seen anything like it. I couldn’t get away with this in downtown Washington on a private job. I have no rules.
RAY SUAREZ: Kilsheimer says his working motto is simple: “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”
The reconstruction has brought together an odd couple, the blunt and irreverent Kilsheimer, and the clean-cut and buttoned down project manager for the Pentagon, Will Colston.
The two have been working closely since Sept. 11. Both say it’s a partnership that works.
RAY SUAREZ: He may have only been half joking, that he demanded up front that people not be waving pieces of paper in his face, and that instead they wave them in your face. (Laughs) That’s the stuff that comes cascading down on the…
WILL COLSTON, Project Manager: That’s funny. He’s throwing a ton of drawings on top of me, which is on paper, itself.
But no, it’s absolutely right. I mean, one of the key things that I do as the project manager for the government is to try to put the contracting methods, to put the funding, to be able to put any of the resources needed in place to support Alan as well as the contractor, and the other people working on this job to get it done.
RAY SUAREZ: While the fires were still burning, the reconstruction team decided to rebuild the damaged building as quickly as possible.
Their goal is to have office workers in at least the outermost section, the building’s public face, where the jet hit the building, by Sept. 11 of this New Year.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: Construction people are… They were really upset by this, what happened. It was an attack on them and what they stand for, and they’re going to show these people that they can do whatever they want to us, but we’re going to recover, and we’re going to recover faster than anybody ever imagined.
RAY SUAREZ: The original Pentagon structure is actually five different structures, or wedges; each one a separate entity connected by expansion joints. Five concentric rings of offices connect the wedges.
The plane plowed through three rings just to the right of an expansion joint, almost like the first cut in a wedding cake.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: If you looked at the photographs early on, you saw a vertical clean line. That was the expansion joint. So, everything to the left didn’t collapse and everything to the right collapsed within an hour or two.
RAY SUAREZ: On that left side was wedge two, part of the unrenovated original Pentagon with no sprinkler system and tons of asbestos. On the right side was the newly renovated wedge one with a brand new advanced sprinkler system.
LEE EVEY: That fire went nowhere in wedge one. Now I did get a heck of a lot of water damage in wedge one, as a result of that, but the fire went nowhere.
Wedge two, the fire just took off. The heat of the fire was so intense that it damaged the concrete, and it damaged it further than we had initially thought that it had. In some areas, the fire was intense enough that the windows had actually melted.
RAY SUAREZ: After the rescue and crime scene personnel left the site in mid-October, demolition crews flattened a 100-yard-wide section of the building.
Working around the clock, crews removed 47,000 tons of debris, more than 5,000 dump truck loads. Instead of the usual six months, the demolition phase took just a month and a day. Then they immediately began pouring concrete, and they haven’t stopped since.
Ground was broken for the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 1941, as the United States was about to enter World War II.
The building, all 29 acres of it, went up in just 16 months. It was built so fast, the architectural drawings were completed after the fact, creating any number of design headaches.
Since the attack, Evey and Kilsheimer have continually explored the site and say they were continually surprised by what they found.
LEE EVEY: Pick a building code– the Pentagon doesn’t comply with it. Okay, we do not comply with a single building code.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: It was done differently in 1941 than the very sketchy drawings we had showed, or it had been worked on over the years so that we, even today, are still finding things differently than we thought, and we have to keep adjusting what we’re doing to accommodate what we uncover.
RAY SUAREZ: For example:
ALAN KILSHEIMER: There are tunnels and things all in and around here that were done over the years, and we’re trying to work around all those things.
RAY SUAREZ: Now I’m going to guess that there was a lot of conduit, cable, communications lines that because this was a 1941 building, had to be run in sub-optimal places.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: But now that you’re building from scratch, you have a chance to do it right?
ALAN KILSHEIMER: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: And you hide those wires…
ALAN KILSHEIMER: Yes, it will be done a lot better than it was done before.
RAY SUAREZ: The rebuilt part will also be tougher and more resistant to blast damage.
In wedge one, the newly renovated section of the Pentagon, interlocking steel-beam supports and blast resistant windows, interspersed with a Kevlar, or bulletproof-type cloth, had just been installed. Evey says they were well worth the cost.
LEE EVEY: They cost us about $10,000 a piece when you put all the stuff together: The steel, the Kevlar, the windows, etc..
When the time came for these windows to account for themselves, in less than a second, they, you know, worked extraordinarily well and we strongly believe helped reduce the loss of life and injury in the building.
RAY SUAREZ: Those target-hardened window systems are built in a way that’s totally unlike any normal replacement window at home.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: So these are actually built into the forms that we pour the concrete in. So when we take the forms off the wall, these frames will be in the wall, imbedded in the concrete, and then the windows, the blast windows, will attach to this.
RAY SUAREZ: So these are purpose- built, designed for this job.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: Yes. Absolutely.
RAY SUAREZ: Is that common?
ALAN KILSHEIMER: No.
RAY SUAREZ: No, I didn’t think so.
ALAN KILSHEIMER: There’s nothing common to this job.
RAY SUAREZ: There’s also nothing common about how the workers rebuilding the Pentagon feel about the job they’re doing.
There’s pride in the punishing schedule, and the rapid progress.
JEFF WINCHESTER: It’s moving kind of fast. Yeah, normally other projects are a little laid back, but right now, because it’s the Pentagon, the boss is asking everybody to pitch in. All those that are not going to pitch in, we’re letting them go.
TONY ARAUJO: I feel a little privileged to be out here. One day when I’m older, I’m going to be able to tell my kids, “I was there,” you know. “I did the reconstruction of the Pentagon after the plane went through it.”
KEVIN REED: It’s important to everybody out here. I mean, everybody… We come in early and work late, and we’re trying to get this thing put back together as fast as possible, and everybody’s willing to do it.
It’s like bin Laden can’t come over here and hurt this country, because we can put it back together.
RAY SUAREZ: Pentagon historians can’t tell their story without Sept. 11: the groundbreaking in 1941; the attack in 2001.
And, if this construction crew has its way, a return to work in a completed new ring on September 11, 2002.