MARLBOROUGH/SHREWSBURY – Preserving history in such a way as to keep it interesting and relevant is a challenge.
Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School metal fabrication instructor Neil Mansfield has embraced that challenge, though, as he works with his senior class to incorporate a piece of steel from the World Trade Center into a new memorial in Shrewsbury honoring the lives lost in the September 11th attacks.
“The ethos of this project is to make sure that 9/11 never becomes just another page in the history books,” Mansfield said in a recent interview with the Community Advocate.
Remembering first responders
The town of Shrewsbury is building a new Police Station. As plans for that facility initially took shape, Chief Kevin Anderson wanted to incorporate a 9/11 memorial.
“Everyone should remember the first responders that were called to Ground Zero, that ran toward the danger,” Anderson said. “Many died, and many are still suffering from the effects of all that ash.”
“We wanted something to keep their memory alive and to honor them,” he continued. “That day, as horrible as it was, made me proud to be in public service.”
Familiar with the work done by Assabet students, Shrewsbury Public Buildings Division Manager Keith Baldinger suggested a visit to the school. Accompanied by the police station project’s architect, Matt Salad, Anderson was impressed.
“I learned a lot there, and the kids were great,” he said. “I was amazed by the work that they do.”
Shrewsbury officials soon worked with Assabet to bring students on board to plan and build the memorial.
Preserving the steel
Step one was to secure a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
Mansfield called on a family friend who is a retired fire chief from New York City. That friend expedited a request for steel.
As such, Assabet now has a chunk of steel labeled “WTC” for its sculpture.
“You can tell that an ironworker cut this out with a torch,” Mansfield said of the material. “The edges would begin to crumble if it were left unprotected, so the piece will be encased to be ‘public-safe.’”
“People will want to be able to touch it, so we have to be aware of wheelchair accessibility as well,” he continued.
Salad led a brainstorming session with the students, giving them specifications for the memorial. Two donated steel I-beams will form the sides of the piece.
The seniors were still working on their sketches as of early November and will narrow them down to three choices to present to the Shrewsbury Police Station Building Committee at a later date.
The final selection will be a project for the senior class for the rest of their school year, working around their normal curriculum.
Although the building is slated for a topping-off ceremony in January, it will likely not be ready for occupancy until next fall.
Therefore, the students have plenty of time to perfect their creation.
“We all agreed that we want this to be from the students,” Mansfield said.