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Construction nears on Flight 93 memorial visitors center

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:04 p.m.

Workers will begin construction of a visitor center complex on the Flight 93 memorial grounds in Somerset County next year, according to a presentation Saturday before the Flight 93 advisory commission.

“We'll have the construction designs done in January,” said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of the National Park Service in Western Pennsylvania.

Construction will begin in the spring and be completed in time for a dedication ceremony in September 2014, he added.

The visitor center, a learning center, parking and related features will cost an estimated $15 million, Reinhold said after the meeting, held in the park service building in Somerset.

“We're under budget and following schedule,” he added.

Visitors continue to flock to the memorial that commemorates the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who on Sept. 11, 2001, gave their lives and thwarted a planned terrorist attack on the nation's capital. The passengers averted the attack by overtaking terrorists. The plane crashed near Shanksville.

Barbara Black of the National Park Service said 300,000 visitors went to the memorial from January to October this year, up from 238,000 who visited in the same time period last year.

By Thanksgiving, a half-million people will have visited the memorial since Sept. 10, 2011, when it was dedicated, Black predicted.

Volunteers gave 9,200 hours during fiscal year 2012, compared to 6,480 hours in 2011, she said. Volunteers devoted 1,058 hours to the oral history project, and 584 volunteers took part in planting trees.

“It's keeping us busy,” Black said.

First interviews with the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Postal Service and United Airlines at Newark International Airport were done this year, she said.

People began using smartphones to tour the facility in 2012.

“The cellphone tours have been very well received,” Black said.

The first year of the three-year grant from the Heinz Foundation ended with completion of 69 interviews, including 23 interviews with family members, friends and colleagues of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. In seven years, 766 interviews have been done.

“We want people not only to pay their respects ... but learn,” Reinbold said.

“It's just amazing to see a dad with a young child explaining the panels there,” he added of the Wall of Names of victims.

More than $1 million has been raised since July for the capital campaign, with many donors giving more than once, said King Laughlin of the Flight 93 Memorial Campaign.

From January through October, $4.3 million has been raised, he said.

The donated amount for 2012 is the third highest for a year, after 2011 and 2006, both anniversary years, Laughlin said.

With the rapid news cycles of media, it is important the memorial and the reason for it remain in the headlines, said Gordon Felt, whose brother, Edward Felt, was among the passengers and crew killed on the flight.

“It's critical people not forget,” he said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or

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