Next Week Too Soon For Memorial Opening
Officials Want Veterans to Have Early Access
By Monte Reel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2004; Page B01
Officials with the National World War II Memorial said yesterday that they probably will not meet their informal goal of opening the site to the public next week and instead expect the opening to be late this month.
But retired Marine Gen. P.X. Kelley, chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, said the cedar fencing along the north side of the memorial will be removed by next week to give people fuller views of the site. He said the commission also will begin distributing handouts to detail the various inscriptions that might not be visible to visitors from that distance.
"The goal is at least to let them see the memorial, though they won't be able to actually get into it," said Betsy Glick, a spokeswoman for the commission, the project's sponsor.
A formal dedication ceremony is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, but Kelly said the commission wants to open the site early to give as many World War II veterans as possible the chance to visit. The war's veterans are dying at a rate of about 1,100 a day, according to the commission.
The commission earlier this year had announced that construction was on track to be completed in March, and this week construction officials had said they expected to get the site ready for a full opening next week. But Kelly yesterday said officials decided to push back estimates for a "soft opening" to late April to ensure that all safety and disabled-access features are properly installed.
Glick said the sidewalks on the south side of the memorial are key elements that still await completion. She said that before allowing full access, officials want to be certain that visitors, many of whom are expected to be elderly, will be able to safely maneuver around all areas of the memorial.
Kelly said the total cost of the memorial is estimated at $172 million. That includes all design, construction and administrative expenses from the project's inception in 1993 through 2004; the budget for the dedication ceremonies; and a fee paid to the National Park Service for general maintenance of the memorial.
The current cost estimate is about $22 million less than the $194 million the commission received for the project through a fundraising drive and a $16 million federal appropriation. The commission is an independent agency within the federal government's executive branch.
The surplus has been deposited into a trust fund that is reserved for repairs and other future expenses at the memorial, Glick said. When establishing the memorial, Congress required that none of the surplus could be used for any other purpose.
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