The first phase of construction is set to begin for a memorial at the site of a nightclub fire that killed 100 people, and the head of the nonprofit group that has worked for years to build it says it expects to complete a scaled-down memorial by the spring.
The Feb. 20, 2003, fire was sparked by pyrotechnics for the band Great White, which set fire to flammable foam that lined the inside of The Station nightclub in West Warwick. More than 200 people were injured.
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Gina Russo, president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, said the group has received its building permit from the town of West Warwick and is now moving ahead with the first of three phases. The group is still working to raise the money it needs to build the memorial and establish a fund to maintain it in perpetuity, but Russo says she is not worried.
"We have no doubt of that. We're very confident," Russo said. "Our construction managers are very confident that the money is going to be there."
The site has been closed off to the public for more than a year as work went on behind the scenes to prepare the site and get all the necessary permits. First came a chain link fence, then came the removal of handmade wooden crosses and other mementos that had been left at the site as part of a makeshift memorial. The items were put into storage and ultimately will be buried in a vault under the parking lot.
Wildflowers now cover the place where the club burned down.
The design for the memorial was released on the 10th anniversary of the fire, but one element, a 30-foot-tall harp that was to have been built at the entrance, had to be removed from the final plan, Russo said.
"It was too costly," she said. "We could not take the chance."
The first task is to clear out the brush from the site, Russo said. Then the group can level the land where the memorial will be built by bringing in clean soil, she said. The group has pledged not to dig on the part of the site where the club once stood so that human remains will not be disturbed.
It also will begin laying the groundwork for an electrical system and digging in the parking lot for the underground vault, she said.
Phase two will include work such as landscaping, installing a lighting system and starting work on an open-air gazebo, Russo said. She said monuments would be installed in the spring in phase three.
The foundation has been working to raise $2 million and has about $300,000 in the bank, Russo said. She estimates it has received between $500,000 to $600,000 in "in-kind" donations of materials and labor.
The group has run a variety of events over the years to raise money for the project. Last week, Russo sent a letter to every fire chief in Rhode Island challenging them to run a "fill the boot" fundraiser for the memorial. She was inspired by the Lime Rock Fire Department in Lincoln, which raised $11,600 in a recent campaign.