Last of Pentagon workers moving back into offices on anniversary of attack

One year after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, the last group of employees will move back into their offices today and the outer ring of offices where the jetliner struck the building will be fully occupied.

Only a few weeks after the disaster, construction workers set the goal of rebuilding the outer ring and having Pentagon employees back at their desks in time for the anniversary. About six months ago a large digital counter was placed over the construction site, which workers dubbed the Phoenix Project. It counts down the hours, minutes and seconds until the one-year anniversary of the attack.

Many considered the project’s goal impossible.

“We haven’t split the atom, and we haven’t gone to the moon,” Lee Evey, the head of the Pentagon renovation program, told the Washington Post. “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.”

Contractors at the site at first thought they would be rebuilding only small areas of the Pentagon, but the heat from the fire had weakened large stretches and a huge hunk of the structure had to be demolished before rebuilding could begin.

The area was doused with water to put out the fire that burned for days, and mold soon grew on everything from walls to computers. Workers destroyed acres of wallboard, ceiling tiles and carpet.

Demolition began Oct. 18 and continued 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four weeks. It was expected to take eight months. Workers removed a 400,000-square-foot rectangle containing 56,000 tons of debris.

The new office space includes updates such as fortified walls better able to withstand the force of an explosion. Workers painted exit signs and arrows pointing the way out in iridescent paint just over the baseboards. Some employees said they couldn’t see the overhead exit signs on Sept. 11 because of the smoke in the building.

Workers are building a chapel 50 feet from where the plane smashed into the building, and victims’ names and short biographies will be displayed in a room adjacent to the chapel. A memorial for the public will be constructed on land under the path of Flight 77.

Of the 300 people on the renovation team, only 30 were government employees. The rest were contractors or their employees.

The attack on the Pentagon killed 125 people in the building and 64 aboard American Airlines Flight 77. President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are scheduled to appear at the site for an event honoring the victims.

Olivia Grider