- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

The nonprofit group in charge of building a memorial to the victims of the terror attack at the Pentagon has raised less than $1 million of the project’s projected $20 million goal and has postponed for two years opening day — originally set for September 11 this year.

“That [first] estimate was made before we understood we weren’t going to receive any tax dollars,” Brett Eaton, communications leader for the Pentagon renovation team, said yesterday. “It was done before we understood what would be required for a fund-raiser of this magnitude.”

At the current pace of donations, he said, the project will not open until fall 2006 at the earliest.

James Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, said $972,000 of the project’s multimillion-dollar budget had been raised as of yesterday.

Although it was reported in October that the group is attempting to raise $20 million from private sources exclusively, Mr. Laychak declined to give an updated estimate of the memorial’s overall budget requirements.

“This is not a schedule-driven project,” Mr. Laychak said. “We want to get it done right the first time.”

Some family members of the victims said they fear the memorial will lose impact if the fund raising drags on much longer.

“I would definitely like to see it as soon as possible,” said Brian P. Donovan, whose youngest brother, William, was a Navy officer who died in the Pentagon.

“I don’t think this country will ever forget what happened on 9/11,” Mr. Donovan said. “But if we’re talking five years after the fact, the memorial will lose its edge. There have been so many memorials already.”

Patricia Deconto, who lost her son, Gerald, the senior captain on duty in the Navy Command Center, said there is a chance the American public is already tuning out.

Mrs. Deconto, who described the final design for the memorial as “very appropriate,” said she thought the fund raising was going very slowly. “I understand it’s difficult to raise money right now, given the economy, but it’s a shame that it’s taking so long,” Mrs. Deconto said.

Other relatives of victims said they have been unmoved by the Pentagon’s efforts thus far to promote and implement the memorial, which will feature 184 metal alloy benches devoted to each victim.

The mother of the late Lt. Cmdr. Eric Allen Cranford said she has seen “maybe” one newspaper article on the memorial project.

“I think they were hoping for 2004,” said Betsy Ann Cranford of Drexel, N.C., whose son served in the Navy.

Curtis Elseth, father of the late Lt. Cmdr. Robert R. Elseth, said he had purchased one of the Peter Max-designed posters being sold to help raise funds for the project, but added that he was not aware the project is making any progress.

“We get a newsletter, but I really don’t know what’s going on right now,” Mr. Elseth said.

Mr. Laychak lost his brother, David W. Laychak, in the attack. Mr. Laychak said construction of the memorial is in the research-and-development phase.

“We’ve started the construction process,” Mr. Laychak said. “Everybody loves the design.”

Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, the New York architects who won the design contest in March 2003, said they are already on the payroll of the Pentagon’s contractor, Fairfax-based Centex Lee LLC.

“We’re just waiting for the fund raising to come through,” Mr. Kaseman said.

Mr. Kaseman said the polished metal benches of the memorial will be organized by the age of victims in the shape of the doomed plane’s flight path and will distinguish between those who were on the ground and those who were aboard American Airlines Flight 77.

“We’re calling them memorial units,” Mr. Kaseman said. “They’re not just benches, but individual reflecting pools of water.”

Ms. Beckman said she and Mr. Kaseman are eager to get started on the benches, as they have been inactive with the project since their design was selected.

Brooklyn, N.Y., artist Jean Koeppel, who was a finalist for the Pentagon design contest and an entrant in the Ground Zero memorial competition, said she was shocked the Pentagon memorial is not receiving congressional funding.

“It seems there should be a big pile of money available for a project of this kind,” Miss Koeppel said. “The Pentagon memorial also has been receiving much less press than the New York memorial.”

Miss Koeppel said she was also surprised that private donations have not been more forthcoming.

Mr. Eaton, the Pentagon renovation leader, said professional fund-raiser Linda Webster of the Webster Group is launching a national fund-raising campaign next month to give the project a shot in the arm.

“This is a unique project that is contingent on how much funding we can raise,” he said.

Mr. Eaton said the overall renovation of the Pentagon is scheduled to conclude in 2010 and added that the 1.93-acre site for the memorial is currently being used as a staging ground for other Pentagon renovation efforts.

The site, Mr. Eaton added, is littered with trash bins, survey equipment and other heavy-duty construction materials being used for various unrelated projects.

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