Station Fire Memorial drive tops $2M goal

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Station nightclub fire survivor Gina Russo feels like an enormous weight has been lifted from her shoulders. Last Friday, a donor closed the gap to put the $2 million Station Fire Memorial campaign over the top.

“I don’t know who it is, but we’ve done it,” Russo said at the site of the park Monday morning.

Behind her, the boom of a concrete truck lifted above the forms of the gate to the entrance of the memorial park. Crews were busily working throughout the park that Russo, chair of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, had hoped could be dedicated later this month. That dedication has been postponed until this spring and a flowering of new life.

While the memorial park will be completed before then, Russo can’t see a dedication ceremony on the anniversary of the Feb. 20, 2003 tragedy, in which 100 people lost their lives.

It’s been 18 months since the foundation ramped up efforts to build a memorial to those died. With the help of Gilbane Building Co., Dan Barry Associates was retained to conduct a feasibility study of the campaign.

The response was overwhelming. Community leaders stepped forward to play key roles in the drive, with former Gov. Donald Carcieri, governor at the time of the fire, serving as co-chairman of the Station Fire Memorial Park Leadership Committee.

“It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership committee,” Russo said. “I’m grateful to Don Carcieri and everybody who came aboard.”

Carcieri used similar words to describe the campaign.

“We are very grateful to Rhode Island businesses – large and small – who stepped up and contributed in meaningful ways to this Memorial Park,” he said in a statement. “We are also extremely grateful for the thousands of Rhode Islanders who in some way were touched by this tragedy and responded so generously.”

The Leadership Committee also announced that while it had hoped to hold a dedication ceremony this month, construction delays have necessitated postponement of the opening until the spring.

The Memorial Park will include individual granite monuments, which have already been delivered to the site, with each victim’s name and date of birth; a gathering courtyard; memorial steps each dedicated to a unique group that played an important role in the tragedy; and a commemorative walkway. It will all be surrounded by 12 memorial gardens and stone walls.

It is being built by Gilbane Building Company, which Carcieri credited for supervising both in-kind and paid contractors involved in the construction of Memorial Park.

Project manager for Gilbane Kristin Belmore thought most of the park construction would be completed within a couple of months. Belmore remarked on the connection workers feel to the park and their attention to ensuring it is a lasting tribute to those who perished.

“I can’t underscore enough the collaborative nature of this undertaking, which starts with Gina Russo, a survivor and co-chair of this project who has poured her heart and soul into every aspect of the memorial. She has been supported by a volunteer board of directors and a Campaign Leadership and Honorary Leadership Committee that includes business leaders, interfaith clergy and union officials from our state, working side-by-side with survivors and victim’s family members to deliver a fitting tribute to the 100 souls who lost their lives that tragic day,” Carcieri said.

For Russo, the park has become more than a dream.

“I really can envision it now,” she said.

She imagines some of those attending the Phoenix Society World Burn Congress opening this Wednesday at the Rhode Island Convention Center will also want to see the beginnings to the park. Russo has been instrumental in bringing the congress to Rhode Island. More than 850 are registered to attend the three-day conference that last met in Rhode Island in 2013.

The Station Fire Memorial Foundation is an all-volunteer, 501C3 charitable organization. For more information, visit stationfirememorialfoundation.org.

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