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Worcester firefighter memorial designs announced

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Memorial finalists named

Monument will honor firefighters who died in 1999 fire

Martin Luttrell | Tuesday, July 13, 2004


WORCESTER- The woods behind the Grove Street fire station are overgrown with vines and poison ivy, littered with the food wrappers and beer cans from decades of squatters and drinking parties.


Firefighters look on as union President Frank Raffa talks yesterday about the five final designs for a memorial, shown on easels. (T&G Staff /MARK C. IDE)

But amid the clutter remain reminders of a grander time for the peninsula that juts into Salisbury Pond: towering white pines, an American beech tree bearing initials carved so long ago they are stretched to the point of illegibility, concrete piers that once held benches looking out onto the pond.

The abandoned peninsula - part of Institute Park more than 50 years ago - will again be linked to the park when a memorial to six fallen firefighters is built there, with a footbridge over the pond to connect to the park.

Yesterday, the Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Committee announced five finalists for the memorial, which will honor firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk, and Lts. Timothy P. Jackson, James F. "Jay" Lyons III and Thomas E. Spencer. They died in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building fire on Dec. 3, 1999.

The finalists, all from Massachusetts, were selected from 158 submissions from around the country, said Michael J. Donoghue, president of the Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial National Design Competition.

"I think that every one of them, in their own way, presents an opportunity for the visitor to contemplate what happened on Dec. 3 and for the 10 days that followed," he said.

"They give the visitor an opportunity to reflect on the aftermath, the recovery of the bodies. It's an education."

The five finalists will visit the site on July 27, when they will be given more information and be allowed to ask questions of the committee, said Kenneth W. Paolini, consultant to the committee.

"I feel confident that we'll have a winner out of these five," he said. "I look forward to a second stage of competition of the highest quality."

All five designs include a bridge linking the memorial site to Institute Park, the names of the fallen firefighters and a description of the timeline of events that began at 6:13 p.m. when Box 1438 was struck for a fire at 266 Franklin St.

By 7:58 that night, orders were given to evacuate the building, with six firefighters unaccounted for and presumed dead, according to the timeline described by one finalist.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien said that the inclusion of local community members in the design is essential.

"We carry this tragedy in our hearts day to day," he said. "Part of the healing process is for the community to participate. It brings us to a better place in our hearts. ... It is a fitting tribute to our fallen heroes."

The memorial will be built at a cost of $3 million to $5 million. Institute Park will also receive some improvements, and WPI is working with the city on a master plan for the park.

An 11-member jury selected the five finalists and will announce the winner on Sept. 27.

Fire Chief Gerard A. Dio said he wasn't sure what to expect at the start of the competition. "A big part of it is some recognition of the six individuals," he said. "We want something that brings the six to light.

"I like what we have here. The finalists will now expand on what they've done.

"... It was quite an experience going through the process. I was surprised we were able to come to a consensus. I believe we did well and got the best of the designs."

No family members of the fallen firefighters attended yesterday's press conference, Chief Dio said.

Drawings of the five final designs will be on display on the third floor of City Hall for the next three weeks, and will then be on display at the Worcester Public Library, Mr. Donoghue said.


Firefighter memorial finalists

Stephen Stimson Associates, Falmouth, has worked on national projects including university campuses, corporate headquarters, parks and private gardens. Currently doing work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Harvard Biological Research Center and Harvard Science Center.

A terrace overlooking Salisbury Pond marked by a 60-foot-high monument and willow grove. Six polished rungs punctuate a thin slot in the monument, creating a shifting beam of light with the movement of the sun, illuminating six polished granite slabs engraved with the names of the firefighters.

Ben Smoot, Brookline, design degree from the University of Virginia. He works for William Rawn Associates architects in Boston and is involved in the design of a new federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Two reflecting pools, six stone piers and six glass columns. The stone columns will become beacons of light at night, illuminated by lights under the reflecting pools.

Benjamin Kou, Cambridge, bachelor

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Worcester closes in on design of memorial to fallen firefighters


Journal Staff Writer | September 7, 2004

Later this month, the winning design for Worcester's memorial to its fallen firefighters will be unveiled. Five Massachusetts designers are vying for the commission that focuses on six city firefighters who were killed during a massive warehouse fire in December 1999.

The selection of a final plan will mark another step in a long process, begun shortly after the fire, to honor the men and remember their sacrifice. The Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Inc. will launch a capital campaign this fall with a goal of raising upward of $5 million to pay for the memorial. The nonprofit group hopes to dedicate the monument at an 8.9-acre, city-owned property on Grove Street about two years from now. It still needs to approve final drawings, obtain city permits, select a contractor and oversee construction.

The memorial group raised about $700,000 in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Although that is a substantial sum, it has become just the seed money for a complex, multiphased project developing over several years, according to Michael J. Donoghue, chairman of the Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial. Consultants were hired to help the group refine its ideas and guide the design competition. More professionals will be brought on board to raise money to build and landscape the memorial, and to establish an endowment for its upkeep.

"From the start, we decided we wanted to do it right, and it's expensive to do that," said Donoghue, a former Worcester County treasurer and the current chairman and chief executive of the Worcester Regional Retirement Board.

Many New Englanders remember that cold Friday evening of Dec. 3, 1999, when news broke of six firefighters missing. They were later found dead amid the debris of the collapsed Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. A rapidly moving fire started in the vacant building on Franklin Street when two homeless people knocked over a candle, igniting some clothing. Two firefighters, searching for occupants, became disoriented on the fifth floor of the smoke-filled building. They and four rescuers sent in to help them perished.

Shortly after the fire, a memorial committee -- consisting of fire and government officials, businesspeople and surviving family members -- was established. But it took nearly three years for the committee to decide where to build the memorial. The Franklin Street fire site -- less than half an acre -- is located downtown. It's in a congested area, bordered at one end by the eastbound lanes of Route 290.

"As you can imagine, this has been a heart-wrenching process, a project that has drained a lot of people," said Donoghue. Many committee members wanted to use the site where the firefighters died.

"At one point, we just stopped having meetings because the discussions were too painful," he said.

The city offered an alternative site on Grove Street, next to the Worcester Fire Department headquarters. Donated in 1877 by Stephen Salisbury III, it includes a pond bearing Salisbury's name and a football practice field. The rest of the land is wetlands or tangled woods dominated by invasive plant species such as bittersweet, poison ivy and Japanese knotwood. The property sits opposite the city's Institute Park, which is adjacent to Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

In October 2002, with the help of outside advisers, the committee selected the Grove Street parkland for the memorial. It will include a monument, new landscaping, and a bridge over the pond linking the area to Institute Park. The Franklin Street land, now owned by the city, will become the new downtown fire station.

After about a year of planning, the committee in March announced a national design competition, said Kenneth W. Paolini, executive director of Design Competitions International, based in Boston, the committee's lead consultant. In order to have a "serious" competition, he said, cash prizes totaling more than $80,000 are being offered, including a top prize of $30,000 and the opportunity to develop the memorial.

The committee asked each contestant for a first-stage design of the primary monument to the six firefighters, which will include a chronology of the Dec. 3 tragedy, as well as tributes to those who fought the fire and to other Worcester firefighters who die in the line of duty.

By its April 22 deadline, 389 entrants from 35 states paid the $75 registration fee for design specifications. The June 30 deadline for drawings brought in 158 participants, the majority from New England and New York. There were 74 entrants from Massachusetts, 12 from New York, 8 from Rhode Island, 6 from Connecticut, 3 from Vermont and 2 each from New Hampshire and Maine.

On July 12, five finalists were selected by a jury of landscape designers, architects, environmental experts, historians and firefighting officials.

Two are design firms. The other three are individuals associated with design firms. All the finalists are from Massachusetts.

The designers have until Sept. 22 to refine their ideas for the second stage of the competition. They are required to integrate the primary monument as the centerpiece for what will be known as Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Park 5-1438. The numbers symbolize the fact that the deadly fire went to five alarms, the highest level, at box location 1438.

The finalists are:

Stephen Stimson Associates of Falmouth. The landscape architectural firm, started in 1992, has 18 employees. Stimson, 43, a landscape designer, is working with seven employees. The proposal is for a 60-foot-high monument on a terrace overlooking the pond. The ladder-inspired monument has six slots that filter sunlight. At noon on the fire's anniversary date, the filtered light would directly illuminate six polished, black granite slabs, with the name of a fallen firefighter carved on each one.

Ben Smoot, 23, of Brookline. An employee of William Rawn Associates, a Boston architecture firm, he is working toward professional designation as a registered architect. He completed his design on his own time with his firm's knowledge. He devised an event timeline using six stone piers, six glass columns and two reflecting pools.

Benjamin Kou, 33, of Cambridge. A graduate of Clark University in Worcester, he was on the phone with a friend whose office overlooks the Franklin Street site when the fire broke out. Also working toward his architect's registration, Kou is a senior designer at the Boston architectural firm Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates. He created his plan on his own time and with his firm's blessing. His schematic design includes six bronze-and-granite pillars, each representing a firefighter and the location in the warehouse where that firefighter's body was found.

Chuni "Jean" Wang, 35, of Waltham. A registered architect with Imai Keller Moore Architects in Watertown, she decided not to tell anyone that she had entered the competition until she was named a finalist. Working nights and weekends, she designed six steel frames wrapped in curving, titanium panels. As the sun sets over the pond, the frames would appear to rise from spiraling flames.

Gala Simon Associates Inc., of Watertown. Paul Simon, 32, a landscape architect, and Al Gala, 44, a civil engineer, make up the two-person firm. They collaborated with Simon's sister, Colleen Simon, 24, an interior designer, and Criotobal Arria, 30, a Venezuelan-trained civil engineer who has helped build memorials in South America. The group devised six columns leaning inward to symbolize strength and unity. The center circle created by the columns would contain material taken from the rubble of the Cold Storage building.

All the competitors say that participating in the fire memorial design means much more than the chance to gain a commission.

"We are honored just to be involved," said Paul Simon, echoing the sentiments of all the finalists.

"We feel for the families and their loss, and we are just trying to do our best to help them remember their loved ones."

Although each finalist received a $7,500 award for making the cut, and will receive at least another $1,000 at the competition's conclusion, it's not about the money, they say.

"Even if you win, as a business venture, for all your time, effort and materials, it's about 10 cents on the dollar," said Stimson. But it's a rare opportunity for a designer to be able to create a new memorial and a city park, essentially from a blank slate, he said.

Competitions, in general, do have marketing benefits, especially if a firm or an individual is highlighted as a finalist or the winner, Paolini said. It's not unusual for firms to encourage their employees to enter competitions. They are a way to experiment with new ideas and gain confidence in design abilities. It's a bonus for the firms if they garner public recognition as well.

Both Stimson and Simon are using their firms' resources to polish their designs. Wang is also using the expertise of her coworkers to round out the technical aspects of her plan. Smoot and Kou have formed partnerships with outside landscape design and engineering colleagues to complement their architectural skills.

Paolini, the adviser, predicts that the jury will have "a very difficult time" picking a winner.

Although siting the memorial was a struggle, he says building it is an integral part of Worcester's healing process. That it could be finished by the fire's seventh anniversary is important, he said.

Donoghue, the committee's chairman, agreed. The last firefighters' memorial in New England, to nine men killed in 1972 in the Hotel Vendome fire in Boston , was finally dedicated in 1997 on the Commonwealth Avenue mall. Such a delay in Worcester would be unthinkable, he said.

This committee decided that "we weren't going to wait 25 years for a memorial; this community wasn't going to wait 25 years either," Donoghue said.

More information about the Worcester Firefighters Memorial Park can be obtained at the committee's Web site, http://www.fallen-heroes.com. The site was set up and is maintained by students and faculty at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

From The Providence Journal

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It is a great design. Salisbury Park is a great location too.

Interesting to note that my college, WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), gave Salisbury Park to the city of Worcester in a gesture of good faith. Now we get a beautiful memorial next door, essentially. It's a win-win for everyone.

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