9/11 Memorial Park project in Rancho Cucamonga gains momentum – San Bernardino Sun

After a series of starts and stops over two decades, the city of Rancho Cucamonga is once again pursuing the idea of building a memorial to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed when airplanes hijacked by terrorists hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

When considering past failed efforts for erecting a 9/11 memorial in the city, it is safe to say this latest attempt will not be easy. And it is not a sure thing. But recent developments have given the project new life.

“It was something we hadn’t talked about in a long time. We are now trying to reintroduce it to the community,” Nicole Walton, spokesperson for the Rancho Cucamonga Fire District, said this week.

The city has proposed building a 9/11 Memorial Park that will contain remnants from all three sites. It will be located adjacent to Fire Station 178. Construction began on the new fire station April 4 at Town Center Drive and Terra Vista Parkway. The fire house will take up 2.23 acres and the remaining 1.44 acres are set aside for the memorial park.

But the city has not yet gone to bid for the 9/11 park because it lacks the funding.

On April 4, the city kicked off the “Donate 8 for Station No. 8” fundraising campaign. The idea is to get all 180,000 or so residents to give $8, which would approximately fulfill the $1.5 million cost of the project, Dalton said.

“It is a feasible way to get everyone in the community involved. It being $8, a reachable amount for the average resident,” she said.

In three weeks, the effort raised $2,600, Fire Chief Mike McCliman said on April 27.

The city and the fire department soon will reach out to donors and benefactors, McCliman said. On Saturday, April 30, the fire department will be asking for donations at the Police Department open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 10510 Civic Center Drive, Dalton said.

Remnants collected

The idea of a permanent exhibit began July 4, 2002, when the city displayed a 30-foot tall steel remnant from the site of the World Trade Center ruins in New York City, known as Ground Zero. The object had been donated to Rancho Cucamonga and was displayed at the Jersey Fire Station for several days so community members could pay their respects.

A piece of the wall from the Pentagon when the building was struck by a hijacked airplane on Sept. 11, 2001. It is one of three remnants of the terrorist attack that is owned by the city of Rancho Cucamonga. (courtesy of Rancho Cucamonga Fire District)

An $8 million memorial that was to feature the girder, which has a unique square window, was rejected as too expensive. Lower priced memorials incorporating the WTC remnant came and went and nothing got built. And for years the steel girder remained in storage in Rialto.

More recently, the city received three pieces of Flight 93, the plane headed for the U.S. Capitol that crashed in Pennsylvania. Forty passengers and crew aboard the plane overtook the terrorists and thwarted the attack.

Dalton said members of a nonprofit who first obtained the plane’s pieces could still smell the fuel from the plane.

“They are pieces of the outer skin of the plane. They are frayed,” McCliman said.

The city is also in possession of a third item, a chunk of the wall from the Pentagon. The U.S. defense headquarters was hit by one of the hijacked planes, killing 184 people.

“From our understanding, we don’t believe there is anywhere else in the country that has all three pieces — something from all three locations,” McCliman said.

Previous efforts

In August 2020, the City Council voted to launch a fundraising drive for what was then going to be a memorial exhibit at the Jersey Fire Station.

The City Council had a goal of $150,000 by Sept. 21, 2021, near the 20th anniversary of the attack. But that effort did not raise any money, McCliman said.

“It was because they were trying to raise money for the second-floor library addition,” he said. “That already had a lot of steam behind it. It was because of that competing project.”

The Paul A. Biane Library addition is fully funded. The Rancho Cucamonga Library Foundation raised $1.5 million. The city will kick in $2.75 million from reserves and in February a $2 million grant from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors was given to the city for the project.

The fire department’s efforts to raise money took a back seat for the last two years to COVID-19 and that moved the 9/11 memorial project to the back burner, McCliman said.

When the city began planning for Fire Station 178, McCliman and others agreed that was a better location for a 9/11 memorial than the other fire station, which is in an industrial area, he said.

“We have now transitioned and we can begin focusing back on things like fundraising, parks and the 9/11 memorial,” he said.

An aerial view of what the design of the proposed 9/11 Memorial Park for Rancho Cucamonga. The city has launched a fundraising drive in an effort to raise $1.5 million to build the park. (courtesy of the Rancho Cucamonga Fire District)

New design

Instead of a single, art-like exhibit, the new idea is to build a park with three separate viewing areas, one for each remnant, Dalton said.

“The architect designed the park with walkways, like little stations people can go to. It will be a park for reflecting and walking,” Dalton said. “It is a special location.”

She said many young people were born after the attack and may not be as connected to that day as their parents. The park will be a learning opportunity as well as a place to honor fallen first responders.

At the 9/11 Memorial Project page on the city’s website, it describes the future memorial park as “a space to remember the selfless sacrifice that was made on that unimaginable day.” Doantions can also be made online at cityofrc.us/news/911-memorial-project.

“Our goal is to provide a destination in the Inland Empire,” McCliman said.

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