COLUMBIA Thousands of people every day drive past the cluster of nondescript industrial buildings along Beltline Boulevard, east of Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. But few realize history is being made inside those colossal sheds.
There, Owen Steel workers have labored day and night to fabricate the massive steel beams that will make up the 71-story Tower Three of the new World Trade Center after the original towers were destroyed in the most devastating terrorist attacks ever on the United States 11 years ago.
Over the past five years, workers at Owen also have provided the beams for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at Ground Zero, the new underground transit station and the foundation on which much of the complex sits.
“It’s one of the truly great rebuilding projects in American history,” Owen Steel President David Zalesne said last week after leading a tour through the steamy, sprawling fabrication plant east of the University of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium. “It’s a proud moment for us as a company.”
Cleanup of the World Trade Center site was completed in May 2002 and work began shortly after to rebuild the trade center, anchored by the new memorial museum. It will be crowned by the 104-story 1 World Trade Center Tower, which is a symbolic 1,776 feet tall.
While Owen fabricated the steel for the memorial, the steel for the crowning tower is being provided by another company.
Owen is cranking out beams at its 27-acre plant for Tower Three of the four towers that will make up the center. It is also fabricating steel for a hospital and an office building in Philadelphia, as well as the new Moore School of Business in Columbia.
Workers such as T.J. Jordan take great pride in all of their work. But the World Trade Center job is special.
“When it’s finished, I’ll feel like I’m a part of it,” said Jordan, who has worked at the 76-year-old company for 38 years. “All of Owen Steel and everyone I work with will be a part of it.”
Owen gets the big jobs because it can handle the big beams required to build them – some weighing as much as 80 tons.
“There are a handful of plants in the country that can lift that much,” said Lynn Dempsey, vice president of operations.
The company won the World Trade Center contract by competitive bid, but the firm won’t say how much the contract is worth.
Owen makes most of the huge support beams from scratch. Rolled steel is brought into the plant on rail cars, then cut to form the sides of the massive box girders. Up to 100 layers of welds are needed to hold the sides together.
This round of work is winding down on the steel for Tower Three.
The developers are building the tower higher only as they receive more tenants. They are up to floor seven of the planned 71-story skyscraper. More steel will be fabricated at Owen as it is needed.
And when that final topping out ceremony is held, Owen Steel workers will have a sense of achievement few can claim.
“I’m glad I’m a part of it,” said Richard Cooper, 28, as he ground away at a trade center beam last week.
“They can knock it down, but we’re gonna build it right back up.”