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Construction begins on Miller School Park

Sep. 11, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

HUNTINGTON -- As people across the country mourned and reflected on the tragic events of 9/11 on Wednesday, construction of a small park that will memorialize the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting began on Huntington's Southside.

Miller School Park will be built on the former elementary school property, which the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District purchased from the Cabell County Board of Education for $100,000 in June 2012. Huntington resident Jim St. Clair and his son, Sam St. Clair, provided the funds to the Park District to purchase the property, located at 12th Avenue and 7th Street.

Funds to purchase the materials needed for the park, estimated at $30,000, are being raised through private donations. Sterling Hall, former owner of Huntington Steel, and the Southside Neighborhood Association have led the fundraising effort, which is about two-thirds of the way to its goal, according to Hall.

The Park District's Board of Commissioners approved the design for the park in January and the structure under which it will be maintained. Phoebe Patton Randolph of Edward Tucker Architects donated her design services for the project.

Most of the property will be green space for youth sports teams and community members to use, Hall said. More green space is needed in that neighborhood because the open space at Ritter Park is so widely used, he said.

A small portion of the Miller property next to 7th Street, however, will be used to honor the 20 students and six teachers and administrators who were slain during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012. Hall said a friend gave him the idea after the shooting, and he liked it so much that he went to Kevin Brady, executive director of the Park District, and the St. Clairs to explore the possibility of planting 26 trees on the Miller property.

"I've had so many people say, 'Why are you building a park to memorialize people who were shot and killed in Connecticut in Huntington, West Virginia?' " Hall said. "People will never forget 9/11, but will they remember 12/14? The point is it can happen any place, including here. There were 20 children who died that day. It doesn't matter where they were from."

The design calls for six oak trees that will be planted in the park along 7th Street to honor the teachers and administrators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. The children who died in the incident will be memorialized with 20 dogwood trees that will surround a small courtyard area.

The courtyard will include park benches and a monument to recognize the school shooting victims. The entrance will feature two etched, concrete signs that were saved from Miller Elementary.

Creation Gardens & Design and G&G Nursery, both of Lesage, donated the trees. Courtney Proctor Cross, a member of the city of Huntington's Urban Forestry Committee, and Marshall Smith, a Proctorville, Ohio, resident who made sure the field was properly graded, also have been vital to the project, Hall said.

The Southside Neighborhood Association will maintain the courtyard after it is completed, while the Park District will cut the grass at the park, empty trash cans and take care of other basic maintenance needs.

The park is the latest recreational endeavor for Hall. He also has made financial contributions for the Ritter Park fountain and for new trees along 13th Avenue in front of Ritter Park. Even though Miller School Park will just be a few blocks away from Ritter Park, it will be used by nearby residents and raise property values in the immediate area, he said.

The park should be completed by the end of the year.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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