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Rebuilding the Pentagon

The Pentagon Renovation Project, 1993-2011

The renovation project was in trouble. Cooke, in 1997, created the position of Pentagon Renovation Program Manager and hired Walker Lee Evey, an Air Force contracts specialist, to bring the project under control. Evey began by scaling back ambitions for the basement (adding a little more than 320,000 square feet to the mezzanine level, instead of a planned 1.1 million) and focusing more resources on the above-ground sections. His slogan for the project – On Cost, On Schedule, Built for the Next 50 Years – proved surprisingly inspirational for people tired of being reviled by everyone else in the building. On Feb. 12, 1998, Evey staged a ceremonial “Big Bash” to mark the beginning of Wedge 1 renovations: Pentagon VIPs, armed with sledgehammers, each took a swing at a fourth floor wall of the E ring. The Pentagon renovation was, once again, officially underway.


A Vulnerable Target

By the time of the 1998 reboot, additional concerns had to be addressed in the Pentagon’s renovation. The building had always been remarkably open for a military headquarters, prompting vague security concerns that became increasingly specific as the project took shape.

The 1993 attack on the North Tower of the World Trade Center, when a truck bomb was detonated by terrorists in the underground parking garage, was intended to bring down the entire 110-story building. In hindsight, the decision to close off the Pentagon’s underground tunnels to vehicle traffic seemed wise, but buses, taxis, and other hired passenger transports still came incredibly close to the Pentagon. Planes flew over it. Commercial trucks drove right up to it and unloaded their cargo. Two highways, Virginia state routes 27 (to the northwest) and 110 (to the northeast), passed close by. Metro rail passengers got off the train and rode an escalator straight into the belly of the Pentagon.

Renovation of the Pentagon-workers spread concrete

Workers spread concrete for new flooring during Pentagon renovation. The project progressed through the gutting and reconstruction of five wedges, with the workers in the affected wedge moving offsite until each one was renovated. National Archives via Picryl

Two more terrorist attacks influenced the design of the Pentagon Renovation. In April 1995, a truck bomb parked in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City detonated and ripped through every floor in the building, killing 168 people. In August 1998, two truck bombings were carried out nearly simultaneously, killing more than 200 people at the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.

The concerns raised by these attacks were twofold: First, they highlighted how easy it would be for a truck bomb to be parked at the Pentagon’s doorstep. Passenger transports stopped at the curb, and every day around 250 delivery trucks backed up to the loading docks on the Pentagon’s south side to unload their cargo. Cooke had been arguing for years to move the loading docks to a facility away from the building.

The materials used to build the Pentagon comprised a second vulnerability. The exterior walls were made of unreinforced brick and concrete; its builders had avoided steel to reserve it for the war effort. Many casualties of the African embassy bombings were killed by flying chunks of masonry, and in Nairobi the bomb shattered every window within nearly a half-mile radius. In all of the United States, there was probably no greater symbol of American might than the Pentagon, which made it a prime target for terrorist attacks. And the Pentagon had been built with a lot of windows: Each of the five 924-foot exterior walls had up to 400 windows, each about 5 feet wide and 7 feet tall.

To minimize such vulnerabilities, Evey and the project team folded security measures and material modifications into the Wedge 1 renovation, but the Pentagon Renovation wasn’t without its critics, and some thought the security features were overkill. Steel columns were bolted in place along all five floors to shore up the integrity of the walls, and the windows were framed with 6-inch-thick steel beams. Fabric made of Kevlar – the material used to make bulletproof vests – was stretched between these steel members inside the walls to minimize the shrapnel effect of potential explosions. Two-inch-thick blast-resistant windows, each costing $10,000 and weighing three-quarters of a ton, were installed on the Wedge 1 exterior, 312 on the outside and 70 facing the inner courtyard. Additional fire exits with automatic doors were added. A sprinkler system was installed throughout most of the section.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...