Constructing the building took just 17 frenetic months during World War II and remains one of the great engineering feats in U.S. history.
The Pentagon renovation, however, went on for so long that the first parts completed are showing their age, and some equipment — including fire alarms and electrical and mechanical systems — are already being upgraded.
Yet the remaking of the 6.5 million-square-foot, 29-acre site is considered such a success in industry circles that its “design-build” techniques have influenced other federal projects, including the rebuilding of levees by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans as well as the construction of a new research facility for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
Why did the renovation take so long?
Lee Evey, who oversaw the effort for five of those 17 years — including after the attack on Sept. 11, 2001 — has an answer:
“We took the building apart and put it together again, with 20,000 people sitting in it.”
The building had to be stripped down to concrete columns and rebuilt from slab to ceiling, yet still operate as the Defense Department headquarters 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Constructed for an era of manual typewriters, the Pentagon needed to be entirely reconfigured to meet modern communications and technology demands. The Sept. 11 attack, which occurred during the renovation, highlighted major safety deficiencies.
Workers installed about 177 miles of cable tray to carry wiring through the building.
“It’s like taking apart a black-and-white TV and putting it back together again in color, without missing any of your favorite programs,” Evey said.
Old-timers accustomed to marching up ramps and stairs marvel at the 70 passenger elevators in the new Pentagon.
The institutional cafeterias with kitchen mixing bowls the size of Volkswagens are gone, too, replaced by an airy two-story dining atrium of terrazzo, stainless steel and glass. The hot dog stand in the center courtyard was rebuilt and is now known as the Center Court Cafe, offering panini and quesadillas.
The Pentagon has been “built for the next 50 years,” according to a renovation-program slogan, but officials concede that it is hard to project all future IT needs.
At the height of the renovation — during the Phoenix Project after the terrorist attacks — more than 3,500 workers were on the job. Close to 15,000 people have worked on the program over the years.
Now only a handful remain, finishing the paperwork.
Contractors and workers will be honored at a ceremony Wednesday, and a ribbon-cutting event is planned for this summer.
“The mood around here today is kind of bittersweet,” said Mike Daigler, a group leader with the program from the start. “A great sense of accomplishment mixed with seeing a lot of people leaving.”