With only a pause between the death of its backup batteries at 10:21 p.m. on Sept. 11 and the restoration of emergency power on the night of Sept. 16, the center has continuously processed millions of calls and data transmissions daily through banks of delicate equipment that have been smothered by corrosive dust, exposed to the elements and even, in some cases, suspended in space by cables when floors fell crashing away.

WOUNDED Verizon call center, pierced and beaten is being upgraded and restored. (Photo courtesy of Bernstein Associates Photographers)

A multipronged reconstruction program is in progress. Environmental cleanup is complete and a gut renovation is under way. Restoration of the facade, a job begun well before Sept. 11, has resumed. A new mechanical and electrical system is being installed. Switching and routing equipment, most of which still functions but whose reliability was seriously compromised, are also being replaced.

The owner, Verizon Communications, New York City, says it expects the total cost to hit $1.4 billion. It hopes to move administrative staff back in by late 2003. "It's the telecommunications equipment that makes it so expensive," says Verizon spokesman John Bonomo.

Through it all the call center continues to operate as the nexus of 300,000 voice lines and 4.5 million data lines in the financial hub of the world. "It's like changing flat tires on a moving bus," says John V. Magliano, a partner with project mechanical and electrical engineers Syska Hennessy Group, New York City.

The building took a pounding on Sept. 11. The fall of One World Trade Center, the 110-story tower 360 ft away, rained windows, parapets and the facade from the eleventh floor down with a hail of debris. Flying beams pierced walls and cut into cables and telecommunications gear. Choking dust and a 9 to 12-million-gal basement flood ravaged the interior.

ONE-TWO PUNCH Call center was struck from two sides by successive collapses. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Customs Service)

"By far the worst damage" was caused hours later by the collapse of the 47-story Seven WTC, 60 ft away, says Andrew Mueller-Lust, project manager for structural engineer Severud Associates, New York City. The building burned and fell late in the day on Sept. 11. Debris stacked against the face of the Verizon building to the fifth floor and the bottom of the pile pushed into it at grade level. The pressure bent two adjacent steel columns 20 ft apart, just above and just below grade. Despite that, Mueller-Lust says "the overall building frame was apparently not significantly displaced." George Famulare, Verizon real estate area manager, says "right now we're working on infrastructure mostly," with extensive repairs from the 10th floor down.

Famulare's office is in the building and he was one of a handful of managers and engineers who stayed with it through the heart of the disaster. It was important to manipulate air handling equipment and backup electrical systems to try to minimize damage, and then start the recovery process as soon as possible.

Construction management is by Tishman Interiors, which was on the exterior renovation project prior to Sept. 11. It has a staff of 23 housed in new offices created on the first floor in the early phase of the cleanup. "We're giving our undivided attention to fulfilling the owners' requirements," says Bob McNally, Tishman vice president and project executive.

Environmental cleanup was an urgent priority from the beginning, says Burton Fried, president of LVI Services, New York City, an environmental engineer that had 500 workers on the job in three shifts for months. "After doing the first remediation we cleaned the remaining floors, all the way to the top, under asbestos containment conditions," Fried says.

Heavy dust continues to infiltrate, however. Racks of communications gear require constant re-cleaning. They are being replaced by equipment installed in newly created, environmentally controlled switch and frame rooms in other parts of the building.

Cleanup also involved removal of 30 ft of contaminated water from lower levels. Onsite separators extracted 40,000 gal of petroleum products from fuel tanks that floated and spun over. An aggressive mold bloom on one basement level was also attacked with disinfectant.

NEW LIFE New backup generators will support replaced equipment. (Photo by Tom Sawyer for ENR)

All building systems are operating now in temporary mode. The mechanical plant on the next-to-lowest basement level was submerged. Chillers for a replacement plant with double the old capacity were delivered in early August. "We're rebuilding it now on the first floor," Famulare says.

Electrical service capacity is being upgraded from 12 Mw to 20 Mw. Two emergency backup generators lost in the flood are being replaced by four 4.2 Mw units going in on the 10th floor. Backup batteries, which reversed polarity when they were totally discharged, are being replaced and increased in number from 440 to 584 to support system expansion. Steam, fire protection and plumbing systems are also being extensively repaired.

Mueller-Lust says repairs to one column and several spandrel beams and associated floor sections on the face overlooking Ground Zero are complete.

Now, preparations are being made to splice in four new exterior column sections on the face damaged by debris from Seven WTC, although street utility work is delaying access needed to construct foundations for shoring.

Famulare says if Verizon had known a year ago how much "pain and expense" the job would entail, its officials might have had second thoughts. But back then,"we never had a doubt," he says. "And we've been at it ever since."

he battered, 32-story telecommunications center that looms over the north side of the World Trade Center site has a toughness much deeper than its stout 76-year-old steel frame and brick and limestone facade.