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Memorial project faces challenges moving forward

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The project to build a memorial to victims of the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at Fort Hood is at a crossroads.

With the four-year anniversary of the tragic incident passing last week, organizers of the planned memorial acknowledged that donations have slowed significantly.

Sadly, barring some new development, that trend is not likely to change — especially now that Nidal Hasan, the man behind the horrific massacre, has been tried and sentenced, and is no longer in the headlines.

The project got off to a promising start.

On Feb. 10, 2010, the project was announced as the Fort Hood Living Memorial Garden. Estimated to cost about $200,000, the memorial included a three-acre tract between the Killeen Civic and Conference Center and Shilo Inn, featuring an aerated pond, walking trail, gazebo and 13 trees to represent the 12 soldiers and one retired soldier/civilian employee who died in the shooting at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center. At time, plans called for a May 1, 2010, groundbreaking.

Within two weeks, more than $6,000 in donations had been received, with several businesses and organizations offering supplies and voluntary labor.

But four months later, the scope of the project changed. The Killeen City Council gave the special events complex committee the OK to search for an engineer and architect to begin creation of a 60-foot-wide pavilion in honor of the shooting’s 13 victims, as part of a project now called the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood Memorial.

In early November, almost exactly a year after the shooting, plans for the memorial were unveiled.

As designed by noted sculptor Troy Kelley, the memorial features 13 sculptures based on objects submitted by the shooting victims’ families. Each sits atop a black granite column in a gazebo placed near the conference center. It promised to be an impressive memorial, which at the time was described as “a yearlong endeavor.”

But now, two years later, the memorial site is marked only by a faded sign bearing the words, “We will remember.”

Connie Kuehl, the conference center’s executive director, said last week the memorial committee had raised about 75 percent of the estimated $402,350 construction cost. If that’s accurate, that leaves the project about $100,000 short of its goal.

At this point, it would seem the project committee has several options.

It could engage in a renewed marketing effort, offering sponsorship for several elements of the project, as it did with the issuance of a promotional brochure early this year.

The committee also could seek out corporate sponsorships — perhaps even on a national level.

Finally, the committee could turn to the city for help — perhaps through hotel-motel tax funds or funding from the Killeen Economic Development Corporation.

Or possibly, the city could scale the project back and build what it has money for.

Almost four years after the project was proposed, the concept of memorializing the victims of the Fort Hood shooting remains a laudable endeavor. However, it’s become apparent that execution of the project was hampered in several respects.

First, the project’s concept was in flux even after it was announced.

Second, the memorial was announced before significant funds were in hand — a potential problem right off the bat.

Third, the project had to contend with several major distractions — chiefly the Killeen City Council recall and repeated delays in the Hasan court-martial.

Finally, marketing efforts for the project weren’t as intense and consistent as they needed to be. Also, the public wasn’t regularly informed of the project’s progress.

One way or another, the city must follow through and start construction before another year goes by.

For now, photos of the 13 victims sit in a glass case inside the conference center. That’s an appropriate, albeit temporary, display of respect and honor.

But in the long term, it falls short — both in what their families were promised and in what they deserve.

Contact Dave Miller at dmiller@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7543

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