It won't be pretty, but the new Columbia Heights Metro station will be ready in time for its scheduled opening Saturday, transit officials pledged yesterday.

With the contractor running late on the last portion of the project and Hurricane Floyd bearing down on the region, Metro officials said they will open the Green Line station on time even though the outside entrances are tucked between mountains of construction debris and the concrete plazas and sidewalks have not been built.

Transit officials said the station will be safe for the public to use by the start of service at 8 a.m. Saturday. Metro will lay plywood or Astroturf in the areas without sidewalks, tamp down piles of dirt and cover excavated holes and ditches around the station, spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said.

A roster of local and national dignitaries, headed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater, is expected Saturday to celebrate the opening of both Columbia Heights and the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station. The project, which cost $643 million, has torn up streets in the Shaw, Cardozo and Petworth neighborhoods for years.

The two stations, the last to be opened on the Green Line, will complete the core transit system originally planned for Washington.

Metro is under intense pressure to deliver the Columbia Heights station on time, after promises to the community that it would not be the first station in the system to miss its deadline for opening.

But the station's exterior is still a work in progress. One lane of 14th Street around the station remains closed to traffic. And at the intersection of 14th and Irving streets, three of the four corners are filled with chunks of concrete, pipes, rusted steel and heavy equipment.

"You go up to Georgia Avenue and the grass is planted and it looks all pristine," said Dorothy Brizill, a community activist who has criticized the pace of construction. "And you come over to Columbia Heights and it looks like Kosovo, with piles of debris two stories high and no sidewalks.

"Unfortunately, the situation is so similar to problems we've had with Metro construction all these many years," Brizill said. "I'm just frustrated. They chose this early opening. They knew weeks ago they couldn't make it. Now they're having this opening, and Columbia Heights is going to look like a war zone."

John Dickson, Metro's project manager for the Green Line project, said the reason Columbia Heights has lagged behind Georgia Avenue-Petworth is simple. "The contractor's late," he said, referring to D.C.-based Blake Construction Co.

Blake was supposed to finish the Columbia Heights station last year but fell way behind schedule, lengthening the time residents have had to deal with dust, noise and partial road closings. Blake has blamed a shortage of labor for its slow pace, saying fewer workers are available for construction during this robust economy. But the contractor handling Georgia Avenue-Petworth has met its deadline.

Metro is in a dispute with Blake about construction delays and added costs, and Dickson declined to say more about the issue.

The underground portion of the Columbia Heights station--the platform, tracks and rail --has been ready for weeks, and Metro has been running trains through the station for months.

A "station blessing" is planned for noon Saturday at Columbia Heights, and dignitaries are scheduled to ride a train from there to Georgia Avenue-Petworth, where they will hold the opening day ceremony at 1 p.m.

CAPTION: Tim Pickeral works on an escalator at the Columbia Heights Metro station Friday. The station's inside is done; the outside isn't.

CAPTION: A construction worker smooths a sidewalk in front of the Columbia Heights Metro station. The station will open Saturday with plywood or Astroturf where sidewalks are not complete, Metro officials say.