Blairsville veterans' memorial wall planned near Riverfront Village
Plans for a new Blairsville memorial to the community's veterans are moving forward in step with those for creating a Blairsville Riverfront Village residential area on the west side of town.
Representatives of the Blairsville Community Development Authority, which is leading the way on the Riverfront Village project, recently met with members of the veterans' memorial committee and three Indiana University of Pennsylvania students who have been recruited to help refine a proposed design for the memorial as part of a wall bordering the residential area.
Chairman Jon Herby explained the authority had always intended on erecting a low wall as part of landscaping and recreational amenities on federal flood control property Blairsville Borough leases between the Riverfront Village and the Conemaugh River. By increasing the size of the wall, the BCDA is hoping to accommodate several plaques with inscriptions honoring Blairsville's military veterans.
Herby described the proposed wall as an element that can be “mutually beneficial for the Blairsville Riverfront Village and for what the veterans are doing.”
The Riverfront Village is envisioned as an area where various types of market-rate housing can be developed on property that once served as the campus of the Vale Tech automotive school — on either side of West Market Street, near the intersection of Liberty Street. That vacant property is now owned and has been cleared by the BCDA — as is the case with the former Conemaugh Terrace apartment complex, where more homes have been proposed, along Market between Liberty and Spring streets.
Herby noted early plans for the Riverfront Village had included a 3-foot-high wall running south from and perpendicular to West Market. The wall is to be located west of the former Vale Tech cafeteria — just across the border on flood control property, at the top of a hill that descends toward Water Street.
With inclusion of the veterans' memorial, the wall's height would need to expand, requiring the input of a structural engineer, Herby said.
Blairsville veteran Bill Orr, who has spearheaded the memorial project and is commander of the Blairsville American Legion post, suggested the wall could reach a maximum height of 6 feet, tapering down to about half that height.
Orr's preliminary concept of the memorial includes at least three plaques displayed on the wall, facing toward Water Street. Two of them are to be inscribed with the names of those from the Blairsville area who were lost in action during a time of war. So far, Orr has compiled a list of 75 local veterans who were killed or missing in action, though he noted he was still researching casualties during the Korean War
The remaining plaque would pay tribute to those who served in any branch of the service, in times of peace or war.
Orr said he wants the memorial to be comprehensive, including those who served in conflicts that are often overlooked, such as the 1990s war in Bosnia.
“There are veterans who put their lives in danger in the Caribbean for a couple of actions down there,” Orr added. “We've had veterans who participated in police actions and lesser publicized military actions that never get credit for it.”
Orr said additional plans are to augment the memorial wall with flags, benches and an area where ceremonies of honor and remembrance can be conducted.
Herby noted an amphitheater was proposed in the vicinity as part of a master site plan Blairsville created for the flood control area it leases from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The BCDA and the veterans' memorial committee also have discussed possible extension of the Blairsville Riverfront Trail, from its current trailhead off Water Street, to run along the wall's base.
Orr noted the memorial wall would fill a void in Blairsville that has existed since a previous military honor roll made of wood was removed.
“It became dilapidated, they tore it down and never replaced it,” he said. “We're one of the few communities in the area that doesn't have that.”
The BCDA and the memorial committee were able to move forward with plans for the project after meeting to review the wall site in December with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers. The BCDA and the local project committee followed up with a Feb. 20 meeting to discuss the memorial with three IUP planning students: Shawna McCutcheon, a graduate student from Brush Valley; Kelsey Sevin, a senior from Indiana; and Tyler Wiegand, a junior from Whiteford, Md.
Herby hopes it will take as little as a month for the students to come back with a preliminary design on paper for the wall and memorial.
“Once we have the concept to the point where the veterans are happy with it, we would probably send it to the (Army) Corps to get preliminary approval from them,” he said.
Herby noted the BCDA may add structural design of the wall to the tasks of a consultant the authority intends to hire to complete work for the Riverfront Village project.
Herby expressed hope that construction could begin on initial residential units of the Riverfront Village later this year. Since needed infrastructure and zoning are already in place there, BCDA is looking to begin with a condominium development on the site of a former skating rink along West Brown Street.
Executive Director Leann Chaney said the BCDA is considering construction of a pair of three-story buildings and an additional two-story building for a total of eight condominium units.
The specific dimensions and composition of the wall and plaques are among elements of the veterans' memorial project yet to be decided. That means the cost of the project has not been nailed down either, but planners expect it to be substantial, and the memorial committee has launched an effort to raise funds for the plaques and other site amenities through donations.
“The most difficult part will be procuring the funds to actually do the wall,” Herby said.
Not counting the plaques, Herby estimated it could cost about $50,000 to construct the wall of prefabricated concrete blocks.
Project planners also have discussed an alternative — building the wall with cut stone removed from the abandoned abutment of a former incarnation of the nearby Bairdstown Bridge. The abutment is on Army Corps property on the Westmoreland County side of the Conemaugh River.
Herby noted the latter option should conform with the Corps' preference for not having material removed from its properties; the stone would just be relocated to another part of the site. But, with the labor and equipment needed to make that move, he suggested, the cost could be as much as three times that of using prefabricated concrete.
Orr's memorial committee has received an undisclosed donation from the sales of a series of Blairsville Veterans' Stories books compiled by another local committee. Some of the money generated by the book sales also is funding scholarships for eligible seniors graduating from Blairsville High School.
March 15 is the deadline to submit information about local veterans for inclusion in the fourth volume of the book series. For more information, contact Marge Patz at 724-840-3409.
Orr noted donations made to the veterans' memorial committee are tax-deductible, and a receipt will be sent upon request. Checks should be made payable to Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial Fund and should be sent in care of Bill Orr, 342 High Rise Drive, Blairsville, Pa. 15717.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.