The Edmond Sun

January 8, 2014

OKC National Memorial begins museum upgrades

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

OKLA. CITY — Nearly 20 years after one destructive act changed a city, state and nation, Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum supporters celebrated a milestone toward the future.

Wednesday morning, supporters gathered to symbolically tear down a wall, beginning enhancements to the museum that will change how future generations experience and learn its life-changing lessons.

During the morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and at 9:02 a.m. A massive explosion occurred which sheared the entire north side of the building, killing 168 men, women and children.

After the bombing, there was overwhelming support for the creation of a major, permanent memorial where the building once stood.

The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, a 3.3-acre site featuring 168 glass-based chairs, Gates of Time, a 318-foot reflecting pool, a Survivor Chapel, Rescuers’ Orchard, a children’s area and the Survivor Tree, was dedicated on April 19, 2000.

The publicly-funded 30,000-square foot interactive learning museum, which tells the stories of those killed and how chaos turned to hope in the days following the terrorist attack, was dedicated on Feb. 19, 2001.

Kari Watkins, Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum executive director, said the museum is beginning phase one of an 11-month $7 million five-phase renovation project. A master plan outlines a renovation of the layout and exhibits to advance its ability to reach and engage audiences in new and captivating ways.

“We’re really excited about what this means,” Watkins said. “It really is about teaching the next generation in a way where they will learn the story.”

Remaining relevant is paramount to the memorial’s mission, especially as it honors and teaches a generation of children who were not yet born at the time of the bombing, Watkins said.

Susan Winchester, chairman of the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, who lost a sister in the bombing, said Wednesday’s development marked an important moment in the organization’s history.

The renovation will add artifacts and stories not available when the museum was originally designed, and children learn differently than they did when the museum opened, Winchester said.

“This story must be told, taught, and people must understand the senselessness of violence and the dozens of lessons learned,” she said. “Our city, our state and our nation are in a very different place than they were nearly 19 years ago.”

Winchester said her nieces will tell their stories about her sister and others will realize she wasn’t a faceless person, but an ordinary mother, a sister, a wife and a daughter.

“Today’s technology will give each of these people a voice,” Winchester said.

Museum co-designer Patrick Gallagher said success in a modern museum is constantly revisiting what the experience is and identifying the audience.

“Our audience continues to grow and change every year as new generations come,” Gallagher said. “They come with new questions. They come with inquiries about the story, a new sense of understanding.”

Planners studied every chapter of the story in the museum and every element that connects visitors to what they would consider a complete experience for the visitor, Gallagher said. That includes looking at new technologies so young people can dig deeper into the story and connect them in a contemporary, emotional way, Gallagher said.

That includes never-before-seen interviews and film clips that will change the perspective of this story, and tell the story in an engaging manner, Gallagher said.

Since April 19, 2000, more than 6 million people from 97 countries have visited the outdoor memorial, and more than 2 million visitors have visited the museum. More than 500,000 school children and educators have participated in museum education programs, which teach how individual acts contribute to violence and cultivate ways to serve others.

They leave with the knowledge that evil did not prevail.

It costs $3,452,695 annually to preserve and beautify the memorial and museum. | 341-2121, ext. 108