KINGSPORT — After months of delays and a challenging fund-raising environment, construction began Monday morning on Kingsport’s new Veterans Memorial.
The new memorial is being built in front of J. Fred Johnson Park on Fort Henry Drive between the old Highway Patrol Building and Indian Court. Work began Monday morning, and according to Jim Erwin, project manager, the memorial should be built in 110 days and dedicated on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day.
Conceptual drawings show a memorial of red, white and blue granite that includes a circular area with six 7-foot-tall granite tablets, one for each war from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom, with two from World War II. The tablets will display the names of 370 fallen soldiers from Kingsport on one side and a map of the theater of operations on the other.
The memorial will also include a centered U.S. flag, which will remain lit at all times, benches, earth berms, and two walkways leading up to the circular area from each side. The project also calls for two “Walks of Honor” featuring 1,728 granite pavers bearing the names of veterans — living or dead — that lead up to the memorial along both sides of the walkway.
Kingsport Tomorrow has been working for nearly three years to create the new memorial. Conceptual drawings were revealed in 2006, and since then the organization has been working to raise funds to cover the cost of construction. Kingsport Tomorrow has had to move the start date back twice for a couple of reasons, including lack of money and a delay in acquiring the granite.
Erwin said the granite fabricator encountered a bad vein of blue granite when trying to quarry the rock out and had to go back and open up another vein, which set him back on the timetable.
“Anything that sets him back sets us back,” Erwin said. “Now he has the granite, and he’s already started some of the engraving. We’re taking stuff to him this week for the pavers.”
Another delay in the project has been with fund raising and the cost of the memorial — which has risen from $700,000 to $850,000, mainly due to an increase in fuel prices and concrete. The memorial is made entirely of granite (275 tons worth) and it rests on a concrete foundation (250 cubic yards).
Erwin said Kingsport Tomorrow has managed to save some money on the granite, reducing the cost from $450,000 to $370,000 by redesigning the plaza, going from a circular shape to a square shape.
As it stands now, Kingsport Tomorrow is about $200,000 short of the $850,000 price tag for the new memorial.
“We’re going to continue working. We’re not going to quit until we get the money, and we’re out there working right now,” Erwin said. (The delays) get you every now and then, but you just have to keep going so it makes you drive harder and get out there and work harder.
“It’s all worth it when you go out there and look at it.”
In the past, Kingsport Tomorrow officials have admitted the tough fund-raising environment in which they have had to compete in, including the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA both raising funds for their new, respective facilities.
Now, the Boys and Girls Club has finished its new facility, and the YMCA is essentially in a holding pattern (though still raising funds) as it waits to see if the city wants to co-locate a new aquatics center with its new facility.
Erwin said because of these reasons, the environment is better for fund raising.
“I think so. Once the community actually sees we’re doing this now, they’re going to jump behind this thing,” he said. “We’ve had two dates we had to cancel, and now it’s here and they can physically see it. So I think that will help us.”
In April, Kingsport Tomorrow officials came before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen with an update on the project and asking the city for $172,000 to cover the shortfall in the funding for the memorial. Earlier this month, Kingsport Tomorrow officials met with Mayor Dennis Phillips and gave him a progress report on the project.
Phillips said Kingsport Tomorrow did not ask the city for money during that meeting, and the organization wants to give a presentation to the BMA at a future work session.
Phillips said he does not have a problem with the city looking at helping Kingsport Tomorrow finish the Veterans Memorial.
“It seemed to be a moving target, and before we can commit to anything we need to know what the final price will be, take everything in consideration, and come up with a final figure,” Phillips said, noting the BMA should look at every project on an individual basis.
“If the private sector is putting up 70, 80, 90 percent, if we have the financial means, I think we need to look at it.
“If they’ve exhausted all means of fund raising and we’re the only thing standing between them and completion, we need to look at it very close to see what the city should obligate.”