One Fresh Meadows resident and Port Authority employee found a special way to cope with the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy and helping the city rebuild.
Ranjit Sahni is the senior program manager at the Port Authority of NY & NJ and was the lead designer of One World Trade’s central chiller plant, which powers the air conditioning for much of the rebuilt World Trade Center site.
After getting his bachelor’s degree in engineering at Punjab University in India, Sahni decided to move to the U.S. He settled in Jamaica Estates in 1981, and in 1985 he moved to Fresh Meadows, where he has lived with his wife and three children ever since.
Sahni began working for the Port Authority in 1992 as a senior mechanical engineer. In 2004, he was asked to take on the important task in the construction of One World Trade Center.
“Since my background is mechanical, [the Port Authority] wanted me to handle all of the heavy mechanical work — which is the central chiller plant, which we had pre-9/11,” Sahni said.
Sahni started designing and planning the system from scratch. After years of collaboration with the project’s design team, the design was implemented in 2009.
The central chiller plant is a 13,500-ton capacity system located within a 80,000-square-foot space. It is designed to cool the WTC Transportation Hub, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, retail space and other non-commercial areas. It is a smaller-scale design of the system which cooled the original Twin Towers, but was specifically designed to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. Using a special river water pump station, the unit uses water from the Hudson River to cool and dehumidify the space.
“For about two years, we had a back and forth conversation and discussion with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Sahni said. “By using river water, we are conserving energy; we are conserving water.”
Working in a nearby Port Authority building on another project, Sahni saw the tragic events of Sept. 11 unfold through his office window.
“I was sitting my office, and through my back window, I could see the towers. It was visible. And somebody came running to me, ‘Sahni, Sahni,’ he said, ‘something has happened,'” he remembered.
Sahni began calling co-workers and friends he knew who worked in the Towers.
“Nobody was picking up the line,” he recalled. “It just rang and rang.”
Sahni and his coworkers went down to the building’s cafeteria to turn on the television and find out what was going on. Then, they saw the second plane hit the South Tower.
“I was supposed to come to the World Trade Center for a meeting at about 10:30, 11,” he recalled.
Before returning home from work that day to be with his family, Sahni made a stop.
“First, I went to a temple,” Sahni remembered. “I just wanted to pray.”
After the attack, many New Yorkers struggled to find a way to cope with the tragedy. For Sahni, his involvement in the project helped him deal with his emotions.
“I felt, when they said, ‘You will be running the central chiller plant,’ I said, ‘perfect,'” Sahni said. “It gives you some confidence that we can do something in our life, that we can pay it back.”
Sahni will be commemorating the 15th anniversary of the tragedy this Sunday, Sept. 11 by attending a service at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan.