At Cooke’s urging, Congress passed legislation in November transferring stewardship of the Pentagon from the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal “landlord” agency charged with maintaining all federally owned buildings, to the Department of Defense (DOD). Maintenance and upkeep of the Pentagon were at last in the hands of its occupants.
Starting in the Basement
The law that gave the DOD control of the Pentagon created a fund that would pay for a 10-year renovation plan. Though the abrupt end of the Cold War in 1991 led some to question whether the Pentagon was necessary anymore, it was soon clear that though it would have to be essentially rebuilt in place, doing so would be cheaper than either abandoning it or rebuilding a new headquarters. The military would be stuck, in any case, with the cost of removing all the hazardous materials – asbestos, lead, mercury, and PCBs – from the building, and would no longer occupy what had become widely regarded as an institutional icon. The National Park Service, in declaring the building a National Historic Landmark in 1992, helped the DOD decide to hang on to the building.
The ambitious new renovation program aimed to provide “new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, cable management systems, improvements in fire and life safety systems, and flexible ceiling, lighting, and partition systems.” It would provide accessibility for people with disabilities, and “preserve historic elements, upgrade food service facilities, construct co-located operations centers, install modern telecommunications support features, comply with energy conservation requirements, reorganize materials handling, and provide safety improvements in vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
The plan laid out in the early 1990s began with replacing the old power plant and doubling the size of the basement, adding more than a million square feet of usable space. The above-ground interior of the Pentagon would be gutted and rebuilt in five chevron-shaped wedges, roughly equal in size, starting at the southwest point of the Pentagon (Wedge 1) and working clockwise. During Wedge 1’s rebuilding, employees would be moved to temporary “swing space” offsite – rented offices in the nearby communities of Rosslyn and Crystal City. After Wedge 1’s completion, employees from each section would be temporarily rotated into other parts of the building.
Work launched in 1993. Contractors began replacing the heating and cooling plant. Wedge 1 renovations were designed. Workers started to jackhammer out the basement floor, which would be lowered to accommodate a full mezzanine level between the basement and the first floor.
It was a rough start. The more workers dug, the more problems they uncovered, including leaking sewer pipes. Studies revealed the floodplain subsoils would continue to sink for another 50 years. Costs soared. Everyone in the building hated the noise and dust generated by the project, particularly senior leaders. When the Joint Chiefs met in The Tank, the jackhammers were shut down.