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Building Freedom Tower

January 2007 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

[Read the sidebar, Building Freedom Tower -- The Journal for introduction]

By Dick Sheppard

"Steel Rising" -- Four Weeks Ending January 12, 2007

Your Freedom Tower tracker/diarist was busy over the holidays and has been remiss in not making at least note that THERE IS STEEL heading skywards from the Manhattan schist of the Freedom Tower foundation. The previous entry noted that the very first beams were at the foundation; there were three white-painted beams which had been signed by the public, and one which read, "Freedom Tower" vertically. They are now emplaced, and have an additional section bolted on top so the combined steel is now nearly at street grade. Here's the latest report, "direct from the Construction Zone."

WTC Construction Zone - A Zone "like no other"

I am happy to make up for not immediately reporting the important news of Freedom Tower steel rising, by offering the consolation of a "report from the WTC Construction Zone." Yesterday, January 11, 2007, I was lucky enough again to have a chance to directly visit the Freedom Tower site, along with some other areas of the WTC construction zone. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, and regret that while it can't be shared by many, I'll try to report the fun.

We arrived and as usual and donned our hardhats and fluorescent safety vests. While we are not official visitors to the site, we want to respect the protocols, to look the part and not cause undue attention as we wander about and try not to look too "touristy" with our cameras and, in my case, excited gesturing and pointing. As mentioned in the previous report from the zone (8/25/06), the thing that strikes you down there is the scarcity of workers. You'd think there would be construction guys running all over. The workers are there, but there aren't many. Yet you still get the sense of work being done because you have to watch where you're going and there's activity all around. For instance, right on the Freedom Tower site, there's two or three backhoes, the workhorse piece of equipment across the WTC site. There's the large conventional tracked crane, maybe 140 feet tall, used for emplacing the first steel. There are eight of the versatile backhoes within the bathtub, doing everything from jack-hammering into the schist, to scooping up fill, to short-hauling crane-work stuff. There are telescoping cranes too, and conventional front-loader tractor/scoops.

"Columns - not beams!"

Apart from the backhoes, yesterday there were guys on a cherry-picker fiddling around at the very top of the in-place Freedom Tower beams. And, let me stop right there for a moment at that word, "beams." I was tickled yesterday, while alongside the Freedom Tower "beams," to ask one of the construction guys, "why is that one beam different from the others?" 

The first thing he said was, "they're COLUMNS, not BEAMS." Of course! Just as when we visited the construction zone last time, when I learned that guys who work with re-bar are "ladder men," so this was my construction lesson this time: when the steel is standing upright, they are "columns." While I didn't get a definition of "beam" from the construction guy, I suppose "beams" are better described as the horizontal cross-members which connect the columns. It is these little info-bits which makes these trips into the construction zone so much fun.

There are six columns at present, including the one painted "Freedom Tower" and two additional which were signed by dignitaries and the public before entering the zone. 

Workers on cherry-picker at top of Freedom Tower beams.

It is only being down on the site that you can see that of the six columns, which will form the southern wall of Freedom Tower, the three eastern-most of the row are identical. They are thick steel columns, now two column-lengths tall. The fourth in the row is a thinner column, also two columns tall, but slightly taller and thinner than the three just alongside. On the west side of that taller column are two columns which match in height and girth the three eastern columns. In effect, you have three "girthy" columns, a taller, thinner column, and then two more "girthy columns."  

What explains this present asymmetrical column setup? It must be that the final westernmost column hasn't been emplaced yet. It looks as if there is a re-bar and concrete spot ready for it; maybe there is a question of timing on placing that final column, issues of accessibility around the site for now. When that column is in place that, I think, comprises the cross-section of the south-side border of Freedom Tower.

Thus there will be seven columns across the south wall of Freedom tower: Three load-bearing columns, the middle, thinner non-load bearing column, and then three more load-bearing columns. (Yet even as I write this, I looked over and there is another think column just alongside the PATH station. I don't think the Freedom Tower footprint extends this far east, so that beam is something else, of which more below.)

As we wandered the site, we walked within the footprint of the original World Trade Center Tower One, and at the southern edge of that footprint, we paused to watch the work taking place alongside. A backhoe with pneumatic jack-hammer attachment was drilling down into the schist, very deep down. This is on the Memorial portion of the zone, we were unable to find anyone to chat about just what was happening, but there's a very very deep trench and hole being jack-hammered into the schist. As usual, there's water, and snaking hoses carry it around and off-site. It's incredible to see that as deep beneath the flat concrete bottom of the bathtub is from street grade, probably 60-70 feet, the work still requires additional digging down what looked like 15-20 feet into the schist. 

Nearby, I had another question answered by a couple of hardhats who were fiddling around with one of the self-propelled drilling rigs. These rigs, operated by a guy standing alongside with an attached controller device, have been drilling holes for months. I asked the hardhat, what's with all the drilling? 



It is, he said, for tie-downs that will "tie down" the structures to be built into the bedrock. He pointed to a flatbed nearby on which several of these long thin steel tie-downs were awaiting insertion into the drilled holes. How long are they? Eight-five feet! In other words, never mind the holes being carved into the rock by the backhoes, the tie-downs are going eight-five feet into the bedrock. The hardhat went on to explain how once in the ground, they will be pulled under compression, tons and tons of compression, to hold everything down. It was noisy and I didn't quite follow what he meant, but just the fact that these rods were going that deep was interesting itself. More terminology: The rods being drilled into the ground are tie-downs. The rods which are drilled into the slurry walls to keep them stable are "tie-backs." Please remember these distinctions: the vertical steel is "columns," the vertical rods are tie-downs. When you are holding conversations and trying to sound authoritative about these matters, terminology counts.


And, finally, an answer to my everyday wonderment about the very deep trench, and accompanying wall structures, being built parallel to the westernmost PATH tracks and platform. I see this activity everyday from just 20 feet away and wonder what will be there when it's done? According to a nearby construction guy on site, they are building another PATH track and platform! He even pointed out on the new wall the markings showing the platform height. And as mentioned above, just today there is a tall thin column, which looks like the center column on the Freedom Tower column row, stands near where this track and platform will be. While it LOOKS like the non-load bearing Freedom Tower column previously mentioned, I can't envision that this column near the PATH station will be part of Freedom Tower. If this column is part of Freedom Tower, than the Freedom Tower footprint is way way larger than I'm envisioning, if the south wall will extend all the way east to the PATH station. Time will tell. While we were admiring the Freedom Tower columns yesterday, I think this newly erected column near the PATH was lying at our feet. They got that sucker up quick because today it is a standing column. After just coming back from walking around the entire WTC site, I was trying to eyeball distances and determine if this presently stand-along column near the PATH station is in fact part of Freedom Tower.

Rebar in place.

Now: who knew that a new PATH track and platform are being built? I bet not many of the thousands and thousands and scores and hundreds of thousands of commuters who shuffle by. That's fine. I'm sure many note the activity without bothering to understand it, yet in their own individual way root on the effort, such a supremely restorative, magisterial and nationally important project, right before our very eyes.

New Path train tracks will be added to left side of this wall. On extreme left is existing Path track, with train on track (behind screen).

Addendum: While we were at the site yesterday, we noticed workers walking around with "OEM" safety vests. Our escort explained that these are Office of Emergency Management personnel who are coordinating the seemingly endless appearance of additional bone fragments, especially under the heavily used inside-the-site road which parallels West Street. Today's media reports that 89 bone fragments were uncovered at the site yesterday, although we noticed nothing that indicated that as we toured the site.

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