Rebuilding The World's Largest Office Building (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Rebuilding the World's Largest Office Building

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:06
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and as we approach the 10-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, we're looking back at that monumental day and how it's affected our country, our region, our lives. Earlier in the show, we met a man who was inside the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building. and interestingly enough, that crash actually occurred 60 years after builders broke ground on the ionic structure.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:37
Construction on the Pentagon began on September 11, 1941 and ended on January 15, 1943. The whole thing took just 16 months, by any stretch an extraordinary feat. Well, decades later, the man we'll hear from next was responsible for yet another extraordinary feat at the Pentagon. He's the one who promised to rebuild the parts of the building damaged on September 11, 2001 and have people back at work in their offices by September 11, 2002.

MR. WALKER LEE EVEY

00:01:08
People worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You know, one crew would leave, the next crew would take their place and just continue the work going and we started slapping this building back together again so fast, you couldn't possibly imagine.

SHEIR

00:01:21
Okay. Walker Lee Evey, Lee for short, is being just a bit modest here. We're standing outside the Pentagon at the exact area...

EVEY

00:01:29
This is wedge one.

SHEIR

00:01:31
Wedge one.

EVEY

00:01:31
This is wedge one, that's correct.

SHEIR

00:01:32
Where Flight 77 flew in 10 years ago.

EVEY

00:01:35
And the airplane went through the building at -- actually it's a 42-degree angle.

SHEIR

00:01:39
And clearly, the restored structure we're looking at wasn't just slapped together, to borrow Lee Evey's words. No, the whole process was intricately engineered, though, as Evey will be the first to tell you, he's no engineer.

SHEIR

00:01:52
You're not an engineer or an architect by learning or trade?

EVEY

00:01:56
I'm a psychology major. I have a bachelor's in psych. I have a master's in special education and a master's in management science. So when I took this program over, I'd never been a program manager before. I knew nothing about design and construction. I'd never done it before. This whole program was run on gut feel, what seems right.

SHEIR

00:02:16
Evey actually had been vetted years earlier to head up a massive project to gut and reconstruct the entire Pentagon, to bring it up to modern standards. The Pentagon Renovation Program kicked off in the 1990s. So on the morning of September 11, 2001, this huge construction project already was under way. In fact, workers expected to complete the first phase within the next five days and that first phase just happened to be wedge one.

EVEY

00:02:41
Half of the damaged area was wedge one and the other half of the damaged area was wedge two. That was the portion of the building that we were just about to start construction on. And so it was almost a laboratory experiment in terms of what we had done to the building.

SHEIR

00:02:57
Because here you had this newly renovated and modernized part of the building.

EVEY

00:03:00
Sprinkler systems, smoke doors, fire doors, you know, reinforcement, et cetera.

SHEIR

00:03:05
And even though that's where the airplane hit...

EVEY

00:03:06
And carried in with it, 10,000 gallons of jet fuel and blew up, okay, except where the fire was fed directly by the fuel brought into the building by the aircraft, the fire didn't spread. Sprinkler system came on, put the fire out.

SHEIR

00:03:21
Granted, there was still a lot of smoke damage in wedge one.

EVEY

00:03:24
And there was a tremendous amount of water damage.

SHEIR

00:03:27
But when it came to wedge two, which, of course, dated back to the Second World War...

EVEY

00:03:31
The fire was so hot inside wedge two that literally the glass in the windows melted and ran down the walls and puddled on the floor. So days later, when you would walk through, you'd be walking on these puddles of glass that had congealed on the floor. So it's a traumatic representation of the difference between an old building and a new building.

SHEIR

00:03:51
Lee Evey and I head inside wedge one and we feel a whoosh of air as we walk through the doors and step through security.

EVEY

00:03:57
Do you feel how the building has over-pressure?

SHEIR

00:03:59
Yes.

EVEY

00:04:00
That's so if you release a biological chemical or radiological agent outside this building, it stays outside.

SHEIR

00:04:07
That's very smart.

EVEY

00:04:08
Also very difficult on a building of this size.

SHEIR

00:04:12
And he's not kidding. The Pentagon is, in short, enormous.

SHEIR

00:04:17
This building is so huge. It's how many acres?

EVEY

00:04:19
It's got under 29 acres under roof. Got 7,748 windows. it's got 6.5 million square feet of office space and it's got 17.5 miles of corridors.

SHEIR

00:04:30
In fact, you could actually lay the entire Empire State Building on top of the Pentagon and they'd just about match up. And not only is the Pentagon big in size, it's big in people. They've got roughly 25,000 working within the building's walls.

EVEY

00:04:44
It's like a little community, in fact, if it were a community it would be larger than nine out of ten communities in the United States.

SHEIR

00:04:51
And it was this community Lee Evey was thinking of when live on CSPAN he pledged to rebuild the Pentagon after just one year.

EVEY

00:04:59
When I came down from having made that statement, several of my people were there, they're going, are you crazy? That's absolutely nuts.

SHEIR

00:05:08
We're in the 9/11 Memorial Chapel now. It was constructed in the exact spot where Flight 77 crashed and as we gaze at Pentagon-shaped stained-glass window that reads, United In Memory, September 11, 2001, Evey tells me his promise had two parts. First, to create a building that's efficient and effective.

EVEY

00:05:27
It supports the people working in the building. It uses the taxpayers' money wisely and it provides support for our troops wherever they may be in the world.

SHEIR

00:05:35
And the second, now legendary, part of his vow.

EVEY

00:05:38
We're making a commitment to the American people that come the morning of September 11, 2002, there will be people sitting at their desks, at their computers, answering their phones, doing their jobs, supporting our troops around the world, where right now there's just a hole in the side of the building and then we went and made that happen.

SHEIR

00:05:59
Though, and here's that modesty again, Evey refuses to take credit for the success of what came to be known as Project Phoenix. Instead, he hands all kudos to the many people he managed.

EVEY

00:06:10
They're the ones who rebuilt this building in just a year. they did it.

SHEIR

00:06:13
And why did they do it? Well, says Evey, it's simple.

EVEY

00:06:17
They want to have meaning in their lives. They want to think that my life stood for something that I achieved something for my family, for my community, for my nation. You know, and you give them a chance to do that, you got to give them a chance to do that. Then I would strongly recommend you back up quickly because they're going to run right over you to get it done.

SHEIR

00:06:40
And in the end, says Lee Evey, that's exactly what happened. When work crews wrapped up the entire Pentagon Renovation Program this past June, not only were they 14 months ahead of schedule but they were $100 million under budget. And that makes this ever-so modest psych major turned program manager nothing short of proud.

SHEIR

00:07:04
For more on the Pentagon Renovation Program and Project Phoenix, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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