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Building Freedom Tower

November 2006 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

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

By Dick Sheppard

Four Weeks Ending 11/17/06 -- "No Turning Back Now…"

At last, momentous and visible evidence that yes, New York, America, and the world beyond, a Freedom Tower is underway in a Lower Manhattan financial district near you. The first spindly rebar steel is rising from the southeast corner of the Freedom Tower foundation. Cement trucks with long extension booms have been pumping concrete into the schist cuts, and rising above are several rebar rods. The media notes this, and that foundation walls pouring is beginning in earnest today (11/17). And it's been reported that steel columns may be set in place in a month or so. I will be watching from my perch nearly 30-stories above the site this morning to note the arrival of the appropriate materials and equipment. I am trying to arrange a visit to the site as close as possible to the arrival and setting-in-place of the first steel column(s), which will be a photo-op for the ages. Years from now, I hope to be able to glimpse Freedom Tower from afar and recall a day when it was just a single beam anchored in a rock cut, and there I stood for posterity. 

Just after the last entry (10/20), it was reported that the insurance companies, who had pretty much split the difference with Freedom Tower developer Larry Silverstein over the proceeds of the attack payout, declined to pay an additional $700 million dollars that was a kind of "kicker" clause to rebuild any WTC disaster, "bigger and better." It was a brief story, hardly noted, and you think to yourself the scale and scope of a project where a $700 million dollar swing isn't squawked about. Additionally, the reports of human remains from last entry, while sorrowful, have not visibly diminished activity at the site whatsoever. Plans are in place to look "under" some areas which were expediently paved over in the aftermath of the calamity without a proper searching, but the search, if anything, seems to have prodded construction rather than hinder it. 

Just south of the Freedom Tower site, within the two rows of rebar columns which delineate the route which Fulton Street will take from east-to-west across the finished project, excavation into the bedrock has begun inside these boundaries. As deep as the bathtub is below street grade, probably nearly 70 feet, it appears most WTC site structures are going to be anchored even deeper. Thus each day, a crashing symphony is heard of hammering, clanging, and the sharp thumps of the backhoe jackhammers chiseling and shaping the schist. 

Parallel to the west edge of the PATH station/tracks, large wooden forms are held tightly in place with sturdy steel bracing, along with deep trenches, sprouting rebar. The wooden forms will doubtless form concrete walls, but it's too early and too far below that which will rise above to be able to say definitely, "yeah, this will be a wall for the Memorial" or anything related. This below ground work likely bears no resemblance to what will ultimately be visible above. As the construction rises, then, perhaps things will "take shape" and offer this neophyte an inspirational recognition of dreamed reality.

Media reports also mention that work at the very southeast corner of the entire WTC site, at Church and Liberty Streets, is underway on creating another slurry "bathtub" wall. This will be the eastern boundary and will adjoin the row of 3 towers which will complement Freedom Towers. I can see crews busily working away through the plaza level of the PATH station, there is plenty of equipment and activity, but as yet, nothing recognizable. 

On Church Street itself, the front entrance of the Millennium hotel has reopened even as construction and digging continue at Church and Dey, shaping the pedestrian corridor which will run under Dey Street to the Fulton Transit Center. As you walk along Church, depending on what they're working on, you can gaze down into what was the Cortlandt Street Station for the R line and others; this station is being expanded and will be the focal node between the PATH transit center and the Fulton Transit Center. All of which will connect to the pedestrian tunnel that will run under the north edge of the WTC site, connecting everything with the World Financial Center across West Street. This work paralleling Vesey Street is a major excavation undertaking, itself. 

The access roads that snake through the WTC site, like the public roads surrounding, are often re-routed and adjusted as needed.

As pedestrians scurry among street barricades and with construction equipment looming and groaning directly sometimes in their paths, you can envision in five years or so, most of these folks will be striding hither and yon UNDERGROUND, and the cacophonous present street scene will be muted considerably, devoid not just of monstrous belching construction guys and equipment, but many pedestrians content to remain in climate controlled subterranean passageway. We will evolve into humants.

At the northern edge of the Freedom Tower site, the Vesey Stairs, called by some the "Survivor's Stairs" in attempt to garner support for incorporating them into the final project, will be removed, as yet how not mentioned. Beyond, news is that Freedom Tower fills, each time a new tenant signs, Larry Silverstein hoists large welcoming banners across the front of 7WTC. I'd love to see that sleek façade draped in these temporary reminders that our quest is ever upwards. 

Additional striking visual evidence of the increased construction pace, in addition to the increasing amounts of men, materials, and equipment is that the "footprints" of the original One and Two World Trade Center are being obscured. These square footprints, considered especially by family members to be "sacred ground" had been defined by flat wooden forms which covered the set-in schist beams of the original Towers. Until recently, as viewed from above, these squares served as a mournful reminder of what was, and what is no more. However, as the construction in the entire bathtub accelerates, many of the flat wooden beam covers have been removed and the square Tower delineators are fading. This is likely unavoidable, but a sorrowful reminder of time's inexorable and relentless erasure of man's most ambitious creations.

While work has not slowed at the WTC site despite the discovered remains, all activity with the pataki-bloomberg building removal has apparently ceased. The large tower crane standing close to the northeast corner of the p-b building hasn't been operated in weeks. Beyond West Street, the foundation for Goldman Sachs' tower north of the WFC is solidly in place, an imposing mass of steel and concrete that helps you anticipate, quite soon, the similar awesome foundation for Freedom Tower.

(Apologies for the lapse between entries, life's other needs intervene, although a day doesn't go by where I don't gaze down on the World Trade Center site. Primarily for inspiration, trying to envision how the increasing activity is translating into recognizable structures. My daily PATH ride takes me directly adjoining the Freedom Tower site but there are mesh screens which prevent a clear view of the nearby work. I gather what I can and offer here my impressions, fallible and earnest.)

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