Defense Department signs contract to begin rebuilding Pentagon

Defense Department officials on Saturday awarded a contract to begin rebuilding portions of the Pentagon damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Chantilly, Va., was awarded the initial $145 million contract and was to begin work immediately.

Hensel Phelps will also continue the Pentagon's ongoing renovation of the building, which is expected to be completed in 2012.

During last Tuesday's attack, terrorists slammed a passenger airliner into a newly-renovated portion of the Pentagon, killing 188 people and rendering about one-third of the building inoperable. Despite the awful loss of life, Defense officials said the damage to life and property would likely have been much higher had the airliner crashed into any other portion of the building.

"This was a terrible tragedy," said Lee Evey, chief of the Pentagon renovation project. "But this could have been much, much worse."

The portion of the building hardest hit in the attack was the only part of the building that had been renovated thus far. Because that section of the building had steel-reinforced walls, blast-resistant windows and Kevlar panels, the damage from the impact and resulting fire was mitigated.

Evey said the steel-reinforced walls kept much of the structure from collapsing for about 30 minutes-allowing many people to escape who might otherwise have been killed. In addition, blast-resistant windows probably prevented many more casualties.

"Despite the obvious huge pressures to which this glass was exposed, the glass is still intact," Evey said. "Even though the building eventually collapsed, the pieces of glass are still, for the most part, in a single piece. They just kind of popped out as the building came down."

In an area adjacent to the crash site that had not been renovated, windows shattered, doing considerable damage.

"The building withstood a tremendous amount of punishment because of the very resilient design that went into this," Evey said.