Beating Sept. 11 goal, laborers resurrect Pentagon’s outer ring

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) – We need a goal, the Pentagon construction worker told W. Lee Evey.

It was a few weeks after Sept. 11, and Evey, the head of the Pentagon renovation program, was walking through the area demolished by the hijacked plane and blackened by fire when a group of laborers stopped him.

“We’ve all been talking about it, and we think the goal ought to be that you move people back within a year,” their leader said. “Not everybody, that’s probably impossible, but some reasonable number.”

Evey considered the idea. The worst thing he could do was establish a goal that they could not achieve. He needed a target that was really a stretch, but at least possible. He soon declared the goal: By Sept. 11, 2002, the outer ring of the Pentagon laying in ruins would be completely inhabited by office workers.

As Evey walked around the building in subsequent days, more construction workers came up to him.

“Are you nuts?” they asked.

On Monday, the last group of employees will move into their E Ring offices at the Pentagon, and the outer ring where a Boeing 757 jet struck the building will be fully occupied. “Not a made-for-TV sham where people sit there with little plastic computer simulations that aren’t hooked up to anything and a phone that doesn’t work,” Evey said. “Real computers hooked up to real networks doing real work with real phones, everything functional.”

It’s an achievement that many considered impossible, particularly for a government-run construction program. Not incidentally, it has transformed the image of a Pentagon renovation program that just a few years ago was so mired in cost overruns, schedule delays and poor quality that it was threatened with cancellation. And it has captured attention across the country.

“We haven’t split the atom, and we haven’t gone to the moon. It’s a building, and we built it fast,” Evey said. “Having said that, it kind of sneaked up on us: Gee, not only is this project part of the mental health of the building, it’s part of the mental health of the whole country.”

Evey was at the construction site at least three days a week at 5:30 in the morning just to shake hands. The 24/7 pace had evolved to 20 hours a day, six days a week by the spring, but it was still frenetic.