- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

Construction of the long-awaited, money-devouring Washington Convention Center took a dramatic leap forward yesterday as a large, hovering helicopter and a crew of riggers finessed and muscled 6-ton sections of the building's cooling system into place.
The task of assembling the huge cooling system at the N Street NW location of the $778 million convention center was an act of derring-do that left no margin for error, and it was completed around 2:30 p.m. without a hitch.
Josephine Stewart, 79, who lives a block away, was one of many who stopped to watch the airborne spectacle. She had seen the 18 huge segments, 16 of which were box-shaped, resting all week on N Street and wondered how in the world the work crews were going to get them to the top of the center.
"I knew it was going to happen, but I didn't know how," she said.
When the chopper, an Erickson Sky Crane, first arrived, several area car alarms were activated as leaves and litter swirled.
A pilot and co-pilot controlled the chopper as a third crew member watched workers fasten the thick cables that lowered the cooling segments into the innards of the convention center through a hole in the roof, down to where workmen waited to position the pieces.
"Watch your fingers and toes," the pilot had advised construction workers during the security briefing before work began shortly after 10 a.m.
Come quitting time, the convention center had two cooling towers that will provide gargantuan amounts of hot and cold air and water, four internal combustion generators, and a booster to make sure the center has electric power during peak demands, according to Don Lintvet, vice president of marketing for Pepco energy services. Pepco and Trigen Energy Corp. have signed a 20-year contract to provide energy services when the center opens in March of 2003.
When approved in 1998 by the city council and Congress, the Washington Convention Center was estimated to cost $714 million, according to Tony Robinson, a convention center spokesman.
The center's current price tag is $778 million, Mr. Robinson said.
It has had its share of bad luck in two years of work. In April part of the roof of the 2.3 million-square-foot center collapsed when a steel beam gave way, causing some 300,000 pounds of steel to be scrapped. Construction workers blamed the damage on improperly fastened steel girders that were moved out of place by high winds.
Building the center has transformed life around Seventh, Ninth and N streets for more than two years and will continue to do so, in some form or another, for two more years. Those living nearby have had to grow used to the rumble of dump trucks, the sight of blocked-off roads and chain-link fences, not to mention the noise that accompanies the building of big buildings.
Yesterday was a case in point.
The air crane hovered above N Street 18 times, each time lowering a cable that split into four lines, which construction workers grabbed and hooked onto the compartments of the cooling towers to be airlifted.
They helped guide the compartments as the air crane rose.
"If this was unsafe, I'd be home," said Awan "D.J." Wye, one of several workers connecting cables to the devices.
Mr. Wye, a steam fitter, said he did similar work in 1989 at Fairfax Hospital. He said the safety precautions he took were wearing workman's gloves and steel-toe boots.
The air crane lifted each device and flew over the middle of the center, where it gingerly lowered them between steel beams that allowed for about 1 foot on each side, according to Cory Colassard, an engineer with a Baltimore-based firm that designed the central plan.
"Most of the time when they put equipment on roofs they use cranes, not helicopters," said Mr. Colassard, who traveled from Westminster with his son to watch the work. "There are very, very tight constraints. That guy's doing a helluva job."
Each time the helicopter hovered over N Street, it swirled leaves and other light debris, as well as flexed loose street signs.
The project also attracted the attention of neighborhood residents, some of whom at first were terrified by the commotion that prompted them to run on to the windy street with slippers and T-shirts.
"When I saw everything moving, I thought, 'What in the world?'" said Shirley Horoton, also an N Street resident. "It was nerve-racking. It was scary. I thought it was a terrorist attack."

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