Published Online: September 4, 2002
Published in Print: September 4, 2002, as Federal File

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Coming Home

When the 165 employees in the Department of Education's New York regional office look out their Manhattan lunchroom window, they see Ground Zero.

The two floors occupied by the department's regional office had remained empty since Sept. 11, when terrorists leveled the twin towers and carved a hole in the Pentagon. The building, at 75 Park Place, was just a few hundred feet to the north of the World Trade Center site—so close that debris scarred the structure and the windows in the lobby were blown out.

But on Aug. 5, the employees moved back in.

"It was good to be back and see my colleagues I hadn't seen in a long time," said Brian Hickey, a special agent with the agency's office of inspector general.

Since the attack nearly a year ago, the employees had been working out of their homes, or out of two temporary offices in Brooklyn. They were waiting for building renovations and redecorating, and for emotions to run their course.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Mr. Hickey was on his way to work when he heard that an airplane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. From his car, he saw the second plane hit.

By cellphone, Mr. Hickey learned that a new hire in the New York inspector general office, a former Federal Aviation Administration air marshal, evacuated the two floors of education employees. Everyone got out alive and uninjured.

The department reacted quickly, Mr. Hickey said. Laptops, printers, and cellphones arrived days later at employees' homes. Within weeks, many were back to work in the makeshift Brooklyn offices. Last Sept. 15, Secretary Rod Paige toured Ground Zero and met with some department workers.

"He pretty much offered us anything we needed," Mr. Hickey said.

Last month, employees returned to find new carpets and furniture—and a counselor on each floor. Mr. Paige visited Aug. 9 to welcome the employees back.

The decor isn't the only thing that has changed in the office. Hundreds of tourists now throng sidewalks outside the building as they make their pilgrimage to the attack site. And the view out the lunchroom window, which used to be of the steel-and-glass towers, is now mostly a construction site. But employees have resolved to stay, Mr. Hickey said.

"We're proud of being New Yorkers," he said, "and we're proud of working here."

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 22, Issue 1, Page 37

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