Solemn ceremonies in the last two weeks marked the end to the nearly nine-month-long ordeal at Ground Zero for police and fire personnel, and for families of the 2,825 victims. New York City's construction community also reflected on its own critical participation since Sept. 11. For many engineers, contractors, construction workers and others, the work at the former World Trade Complex is not yet over, while the memories of their experiences will not soon be forgotten.     

CLOSURE Construction forces mark Ground Zero completion in ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

Construction forces acknowledged their contribution to the successful cleanup effort at a May 28 twilight ceremony that included removal of the final 58-ton steel column, once part of the WTC's south tower. Workers from the carpenters', dockbuilders', laborers', ironworkers' and operating engineers' unions shared in the task of cutting, carrying and decorating the column in an American flag before it was trucked from the "pit" two days later for storage at Kennedy Airport, along with other Ground Zero relics.

"It could not have been rehearsed any better," says Danny Doyle, an ironworkers' union Local 40 site foreman. "It was our night, our closure. I will remember it for the rest of my life."

Emotions tugged hard at the normally rough and tough construction crowd, reducing some to tears. "When things slow down, you finally think about it," says Marty Corcoran, a senior vice president at Weeks Marine, the Cranford, N.J., contractor-manager of the site operation that offloaded from Manhattan more than 1.7 million tons of steel and other debris. Feelings of pride and patriotism were palpable. "I feel like I've served my country," says Bobby Gray, operating engineers' union Local 14 master mechanic.

Tensions that dogged Ground Zero, often between site and rescue workers, dissipated as fire and police members lined the pit ramp to salute construction forces as they exited after the May 28 ceremony. Other construction members, including operating engineer's Local 14 Pia Hofmann and city Dept. of Design & Construction (DDC) engineer Ed Sidor, were chosen to carry a symbolic last stretcher, along with other agency representatives, at another ceremony May 30. "I'm glad it's over," she said. "We need to get on with our lives."

While most construction personnel have left Ground Zero, some work remains as DDC transitions site management by early July to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the 16-acre WTC area. In particular, work is continuing to secure the site "bathtub," including about 60 wall tiebacks and repair of a 110-ft-long, 20-ft-deep breach on the wall's eastern side, says PA's Peter Rinaldi, new site general manager.

As debate continues over future structures to be built at the site, work already is well under way to restore transportation lines, including construction of a temporary station for the PA's PATH commuter rail line from New Jersey and reconstruction of the city's 1 & 9 subway line. Any construction, even for an interim PATH station, serves as a "pyschological boost," says Francis J. Lombardi, PA chief engineer. He adds that he is still running "on adrenaline."

Peter Tully, president of Tully Construction Co. Inc., one of four original WTC cleanup contractors, won't be leaving the site any time soon. His firm is 70% complete with $12 million in lower Manhattan repaving work. It is also part of teams that have won major work on the two transit jobs. The $300-million PATH station is set to finish next year, while subway work is ahead of schedule, aiming for a Sept. 30 end, Tully says. The $93-million job includes rebuilding 1,900 ft of tunnel, as well as new track, signals and Rector St. station reconstruction.

Tully also anticipates other jobs, enhanced by federal dollars. These include depressing the West Side Highway, possibly between the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and Chambers St., to better connect the future WTC site with the residential Battery Park City. While the plan is gaining political support, it could cost up to $1 billion and require lowering a combined sewer system in the area.

FORWARD Reconstruction of damaged subway line is on fast track. (Photo by Tom Sawyer for ENR)

Practicing structural engineers involved at Ground Zero now are spending more time on new crusades. "My own personal hope is to give the general public a more accurate understanding of the [WTC] structure," says Richard B. Garlock, an associate with Leslie E. Robertson Associates, New York City, the complex's longtime structural consultant. "We will make sure the correct information is being viewed and understood by the investigating authorities in their quest to apply lessons learned from this terrorist attack to other buildings." About 20 of LERA's 50 engineers worked at Ground Zero.

For about 150 LZA/Thornton-Tomasetti engineers, who have cycled in and out of the site since the attacks, the end of recovery also is a beginning. A skeletal staff will work until mid-July, when reconstruction of the crushed slurry wall section and closeout surveys of nearby damaged buildings are done. "In one sense, this has been our moment of glory," says Gary F. Panariello, the firm's site manager since Sept. 12. "It's the best job and the worst job I have ever had. Under stress, you see true character and learn how good certain people are."

Even as Ground Zero work ends, the site's paperwork burden goes on. "The accounting process will continue for the next three to six months," says Paul Ashlin, senior vice president of Bovis LLC, the site's construction manager. Four auditors, brought on by the city's investigations office, continue to review records, as does KPMG, the private accounting firm. Most current discrepancies involve equipment reimbursement costs, "particularly for machines not in the Blue Book," says one site official. But, adds Ashlin, "we have every confidence we will settle at the end of the day."

Coming to terms with medical and psychological effects will take longer. "Most people affected by this will never reach full closure the rest of their lives," says Michael Burton, former DDC site manager. One new nonprofit group, called September Space, has set up in developer-donated space to offer support to site and rescue workers, says founder Lisa Orloff. She adds: "There were a lot of construction workers who were sent down there...who had no training for what they had to do. Who was prepared for it?"