On a ground zero still strewn with petals from the mourners' countless roses, a half-dozen workers yesterday began readying the site for the first permanent public building of the new World Trade Center.
There were no governors or senators, no honor guards or camera crews, no white homing pigeons posing as doves. Just a crew from the Yonkers Contracting Company, gathered in the northwest corner of the south tower footprint, digging their way by hand down to the concrete slab that lies at the bottom of the trade center's foundation.
In a pit 70 feet below street level, under an unrelenting sun, with progress measured by the shovelful, it looked more like an archaeological dig than the start of the Port Authority's $2.21 billion PATH terminal and transportation hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava and the firms STV and DMJM Harris.
"I have a feeling that people expected to be seeing bulldozers, but that's not how we're going to begin," said Kenneth J. Ringler Jr., executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Instead, workers will first remove the accumulated dirt within the north and south tower footprints, outlines that are defined to this day by the sheared-off steel remnants of the box-shaped perimeter columns that once supported the World Trade Center. That will leave the concrete slab as good as "broom swept," said Thomas J. O'Connor, the engineer of construction in the Port Authority's trade center construction management division.
The next step will be to cover the cleaned-off footprints and column remnants with a polyethylene membrane; in essence, a vast pool liner. On top of that, workers will deposit 12 inches of a stone fill.
Ultimately, the transportation hub will occupy only a portion of the tower footprints, but their full extent is being covered to insulate them from years of construction.
Preservation of the footprints was championed by the Coalition of 9/11 Families, among others. The remnants are subject to protection under the National Historic Preservation Act because the transportation hub is largely financed by the Federal Transit Administration. The Port Authority has agreed to preserve in place "to the maximum extent feasible" the 84 column remnants of the north tower and the 39 remnants of the south tower. However, as many as eight column remnants could be temporarily or permanently removed to accommodate a fourth PATH train platform.
After construction, the column remnants will be incorporated into the World Trade Center memorial and memorial museum. The north footprint will enclose a repository for unidentified remains, a contemplation room and a family room. The south footprint will frame what officials of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation are tentatively describing as a library of memory, dedicated to recording individual victims' lives.