Vets oppose memorial plans

May 27, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A plan to build a memorial honoring the borough's war dead is moving forward despite opposition over the site from veterans organizations and historic preservationists.

The plan is to hire an artist to create a bronze sculpture of three generations of the Chambers family, who founded the borough.

The memorial would include a wall or railing bearing the names of soldiers from the Chambersburg area who have died in all of America's wars.

Part of the site is a small park just south of West King Street at the confluence of the Falling Spring and Conococheague Creek. Local veterans organizations and some historians oppose the Village on the Falling Spring project because it would develop the site where borough founder Col. Benjamin Chambers first settled.


"It's a beautiful site," said Second Ward Councilman Thomas L. Newcomer, who serves on a committee that has been designing the memorial.

The Chambersburg Area Joint Veterans Council sent a letter to borough officials last month informing them that the organization no longer would send representatives to meetings on the project.

"The veterans never did really withdraw. We just were never in," said Allen Melius, commander of the Chambersburg VFW post.

The $10 million plan calls for constructing two office buildings at the spot where Falling Spring and Conococheague Creek meet. The memorial would be erected in a park separating the two buildings.

The Borough Council last month unanimously approved a plan to give two building plots to the Chambersburg Area Development Corp., which plans to construct the buildings.

In exchange, the development corporation gave the borough the site of the former Madden Hotel on North Main Street and other downtown property.

Proponents hail the office building project as a way to revitalize downtown and bring more jobs to the borough's core. But it is also the spot where Col. Benjamin Chambers built a fort and mill in the mid-17th century.

Veterans organizations requested that the location of the buildings be shifted in order to leave open the space where the fort once stood. Melius said elected officials ignored veterans' requests.

"The council just said this is the way they're doing it, take it or leave it," he said. "It's really sad they're trying to blame us for their blunders."

Melius said veterans requested that the buildings be constructed closer to Lincoln Way, with a parking lot behind the buildings rather than in front.

"All we're asking is that they don't build near the Chambers fort," he said.

Council members said they have received input from individual veterans, even if veterans organizations have not participated. Newcomer said he thinks some groups expected their protests to halt the project.

"Instead, the committee came together with a couple of veterans not sanctioned by the Joint Veterans Council," Newcomer said. "It was kind of their loss, because we continued on."

The sculpture will feature Chambers, his son, James, and his 12-year-old grandson, Benjamin. The junior Benjamin went on to fight the British during the Revolutionary War.

Newcomer said local officials hope state Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin, will be able to get a state grant to pay at least part of the monument's cost.

First Ward Councilman Allen B. Coffman said past preliminary estimates have ranged from $300,000 to $400,000.

"We aren't sure what the final price tag is gong to be," he said.

Coffman said it is still unclear where the funding will come from, although $2 million in federal funds and $500,000 in borough money has been earmarked for development of the public areas around the two office buildings.

"Quite frankly, I would hope the veterans groups would put some money toward it," he said.

Coffman said it also is not certain when the monument will be built.

"The timetable will be whenever the funding comes together," he said. "I'd like to see it move along relatively quickly."

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