Patching the Pentagon

Roofers answer call with materials, manpower and money
August 11, 2010

Seven months after terror took the form of a hijacked jetliner and ripped into the side of the Pentagon, an army of construction crews is marching determinedly toward repairing all visible damage by Sept. 11, 2002, the first anniversary of last year's life-altering attack on the U.S.

In the national psyche, most of the infamy and emotion has focused on New York City, where the World Trade Center destruction claimed nearly 3,000 lives, a death toll some 15 times greater than the Pentagon's. Yet the Twin Towers are gone, while the Dept. of Defense (DOD) headquarters still stands.

So, in that regard, the Pentagon has taken the baton from New York to lead the nation in the process of healing and recovery. Indeed, next September, Manhattan's "Ground Zero" — despite gargantuan cleanup efforts that have already removed most of its debris — will still be a grim hole in the ground.

But if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will be largely fixed by then. Not completely, but enough to have employees re-occupying its Wedge One section that absorbed the brunt of the kamikaze attack. Already, staffers are expected to return to the fire and water damaged sections of Wedge Two early this summer.

"That is our goal and that is our mission," says Walker Lee Evey, program manager of the Pentagon Renovation Program (PenRen), which actually had started the 20-year, $1.2 billion task of modernizing the facility in 1997.

Ironically, the only one of the structure's five wedges that had completed its renovation was the one hit. Now, its repair alone will add another $740 million to the tab, he says.

 
PenRen Program Manager Lee Evey has won high praise for keeping his workforce motivated, informed and paid. His charge in rebuilding Wedge One has paralleled DOD’s adjacent efforts to repair 60,000 square feet of burned slate and wood.

Evey made his remarks in a March 7 press conference updating the public on the progress of what he has dubbed "The Phoenix Project," his apt metaphor for how the Pentagon is rising from the ashes to soar once again.

Rallying 'round the roof

Significantly, as much of the nation has labored to contribute in some way to efforts that will aid the victims of Sept. 11, the construction industry also has groped for tangible ways to help. One of the most visible signs of support is now taking shape atop the Pentagon.

There, in an effort coordinated by the National Roofing Contractors Association, Rosemont, Ill., the U.S. roofing industry is pitching in to do its share. Already, the group has donated more than $500,000 worth of materials, cash and labor, notes William Good, NRCA executive vice president. Specifically, members are responsible for about $250,000 worth of materials contributions and some $150,000 in cash. The balance is in the form of free labor, most of which has been pledged, but not yet used.

"We already have 50 to 60 folks lined up to work (at the Pentagon) for at least a two-week minimum," says Good. "That's roughly 4,000 man-hours."

One of those volunteers is John Francis of Falls Church, Va. There, he and his wife, Kimberly, run Northern Virginia Roofing Co. Inc. Together, they started this whole ball rolling. Last September, within days of the attack, Kimberly recalls that she turned to her husband and said, "We're in the roofing business; what we ought to do is give the country one of its roofs back."

That led her to call Patty Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit public housing advocate Rebuilding Together with Christmas in April, based in Washington. Although the 14-year-old group has dealt only with residential projects — performing about $86 million worth of home rehabilitations per year nationwide — Johnson didn't turn Francis away. Instead, she contacted Good, who took the ball and ran with it.

"We were really just a coordinator," recalls Johnson. "All along we thought the probability of this really happening was very low. But it's all just come together."

Asked how the Pentagon project fits in with her own group's mission of providing shelter for the needy, she adds, "It doesn't make much sense to build people a house if you don't start with the roof, now does it?"

With that in mind, Johnson expects that the example of the Pentagon project this month will figure prominently in "National Rebuilding Day," the group's annual meeting of its 865 affiliates, to be held April 27 in Washington.

No Good deed goes unpunished

No matter how good or logical an idea is though, nothing is easy inside the Beltway. Last fall, NRCA's Good found himself trying to navigate the Pentagon's storied bureaucracy, discovering that doing a good deed for the DOD was no simple task. After rallying resources within NRCA, he soon found that the Pentagon had no formal apparatus for accepting charitable donations.

As a result, "there was some friction," admits Gary Westermeyer, project manager for the Federal facilities division of the DOD's Washington Headquarters Service Branch. Not part of PenRen, the agency itself represents one of the hurdles that well-meaning roofers had to overcome. DOD is in charge of repairing the fire-damaged area in Wedge Two, next to Wedge One, which had to be demolished and rebuilt.

PenRen's administration of that separate reconstruction effort has not yet reached the roofing stage. But general contractor AMEC Inc., New York City, is expected to award that Wedge One subcontract later this month.

At press time, Forrester Construction Co., Rockville, Md., and subcontractor James Myers Co. Inc., Beltsville, Md., both were hopeful of re-teaming for that project. So far, the pair has been working on a $4.7 million contract to replace the 60,000 square feet of roof under the DOD's elastic scope of work on Wedge Two.

"It's been frustrating at times, coordinating the delivery of materials and all," adds Westermeyer. "But everyone here is still determined and enthusiastic."

Wood agrees. "[The charitable issues] were all happily resolved," he says.

Jumping through hoops

Specifically, to make the donations work within the DOD's framework, NRCA has to follow a set contractual pattern. "Myers issues a credit to Forrester and Forrester issues a credit back to [DOD], who in turn then lowers the price of the contract," explains Good.

Despite the hurdles, Good says he couldn't be more heartened by the response of NRCA members, both roofers and suppliers. In all, 124 different contractors made cash donations to the cause, including one $10,000 check from Ed Dunlap, chief executive officer of Centimark Corp., Canonsburg, Pa.

Fifteen firms, including Myers, a frequent player on prominent D.C. landmarks, have donated labor. Good recalls that when he first contacted Myers last fall, firm president Jim Myers "took only 10 minutes to agree to take on the job," he says. Myers even agreed to provide a project manager at no cost.

That person turned out to be Myers' son, Richard, a vice president of project management. He says the firm expects to use more than two dozen volunteers on the project.

Sixteen suppliers also have displayed their generosity. In particular, The Home Depot, Atlanta, donated some 40,000 square feet of lumber, worth more than $80,000. And W.R. Grace & Co., Cambridge, Mass., gave 40,000 square feet of watertight roof underlayment. "Everyone (here) shares a tremendous sense of pride" in this, says James Hansen, manager of the Grace Construction Products plant in Bedford Park, Ill., which made the material.

Of course, the work itself has not been a walk in the park. One factor that has complicated matters has been the indeterminate amount of extra damage that the roofing contractors have continually discovered, repeatedly changing the scope of their open-ended design-build contract. Washington D.C.-based OP.X, pllc, is Forrester's design firm, constantly redesigning the new roof to modernize the 60-year-old original, while still maintaining its look as an historic landmark. Even so, the firms all expect to be done by June 30.

"Basically, our charge was to match the original system, but to improve upon it where possible," says Scott McGrew, Forrester's senior project manager. For instance, the cavity between the concrete and slate on the old roof allowed fire to spread quickly from one section to another, he notes. "So, now we are installing noncombustible fire breaks on top of the plywood substrate," he says.

Previously, there had been no stops in the roof system. When the Pentagon was originally completed in 1943 — built at extreme wartime speed, ostensibly as a temporary structure — it employed two roof systems. The middle three "rings" of the building have coal-tar-pitch, built-up roof systems, while the innermost and outermost rings, plus the five mid-wedge corridor spokes that run between them, all have slate roof systems.

The slate is nailed to wood sheathing, which is attached to a concrete deck that slopes at a 23-degree angle. A two-ply underlayment was mopped to the deck when it was originally installed. When roughly 20,000 gallons of jet fuel was ignited Sept. 11, flames spread through the wood sheathing and did extensive damage, requiring more than 6 million gallons of water to finally put out the fire.

"The heat was intense enough to melt the window glass, which ran down the walls and puddled on the floor," says Evey.

A call to arms

To date, the white-hot intensity of that initial event has been matched by the forged resolve of the responding work force. And whether it has been on the DOD roof replacement or PenRen's structural work next door, the mood on the job site has been unusually upbeat. Considering the tragic source of these ongoing repairs, some even see the atmosphere as flat-out inspiring.

 
Installing materials donated by suppliers like Home Depot and W.R. Grace are workers from Maryland contractors Forrester Construction and James Myers Co. Careful to preserve the landmark structure, the firms have been able to maintain the historic look while upgrading its fire resistance.

"These people start arriving at 3:00 in the morning, so that by the time workers arrive, about 5:30, the work is laid out for them," marvels PenRen's Evey, paying tribute to the project managers for roofing and all the disciplines. "They set the standard ... they educate and motivate. Without them, this project wouldn't be doing nearly as well as it is doing right now."

Of course, part of the reason has been the Pentagon's management, which has gone a long way toward keeping firms motivated. "They've been real good about making sure everybody gets paid," notes Richard Myers.

Still, McGrew thinks there is something more at play. "There's a real sense of mission here," he claims. "It's not just another job."