Friday, June 08, 2007

Virginia Tech to revamp victims' shrine

The memorial at the Drillfield will be updated with etched stones and a new walkway.

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Fresh stones and a walkway for visitors will be added to the 32-stone shooting memorials on Virginia Tech's Drillfield, while a second, permanent structure is years off.

The university announced Thursday that the changes -- fresh stones each etched with a name of one of the 32 victims, a crushed-gravel archway and the path -- would begin immediately.

The newest version of the memorial is expected to be in place by mid-August, before students return for fall classes. Victims' family members will be offered the current stones.

The new memorial won't be funded by the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Private donors have provided most of the material, and the rest of the materials will be taken from the university, said Tech spokesman Larry Hincker.

"The idea was, 'Let's get something the university can rally around,' " he said.

Student group Hokies United, which was part of the decisionmaking process, placed the original 32 stones on the Drillfield after the April 16 shootings. Student Katelynn Johnson added a 33rd stone representing shooter Seung-Hui Cho, but that marker is now gone from the circle.

Once the "intermediate" memorial is complete, a group will convene to look at possible designs and sites of a permanent memorial.

"We're just going to have to take some time to catch our breath," Hincker said. "We took a look at what some other universities have done, and we think we can do better; it's just going to take some time."

The group that decided to update the current memorial had been working for about a month.

Even though officials concede that many people have gotten used to the makeshift memorial spot, Hincker said the Drillfield is not a feasible site to erect a permanent memorial. It's too traffic-laden and has a slope, he said.

The permanent memorial could take at least three years to complete.

Other schools that have faced tragedies sometimes have taken as long as 40 years to erect a permanent memorial. Committee members who looked at revamping the current memorial suggested putting a permanent structure on the west end of the field, between Davidson and Price halls.

The position adjacent to the Duck Pond could help anchor the Drillfield, with the War Memorial Chapel on the opposite end, said Tom Tillar, vice president of alumni relations.

"This is a prominent position and a place of honor," he said.

In the fall, Tech President Charles Steger will mull over just how to build the permanent memorial. He's thought of a design competition, similar to that used in New York City with the World Trade Center towers, or he might decide to use student or alumni architects.

The university's landscape architect, Matthew Gart, designed the changes to the stone memorial.

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