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Crew starts clearing site of slavery museum

December 22, 2004 1:10 am


Work officially began at the U.S. National Slavery Museum site yesterday, meeting the organization's deadline of starting construction by the end of this year.

By day's end, a Hydro-Ax 670 machine had removed scores of trees from the 38-acre site near Interstate 95. Eight to nine acres need to be cleared as the first step of building the museum.

"From here, we're going to be moving rapidly to a 2007 date," museum spokesman James Damron said during a tour of the site yesterday.

Museum officials have said the facility will open in February 2007, and Damron said the work is "on target."

Yesterday's work is the first major step in building what is to be a three-level structure stretching over 250,000 square feet.

Clearing is expected to take a few weeks. Following that, work will begin on erosion control, which should take about a month, according to Chris Hornung, a project manager with the Silver Cos., which donated the site for the museum.

He estimated those two steps will cost $80,000 to $100,000.

Hornung said he's been offering advice to museum officials as they've gone through the application process for construction.

The museum needed approval for clearing because the site is in a resource management area, Hornung said. Approval there was needed because trees with a diameter greater than 8 inches must be removed.

The museum was designed by Chien Chung Pei, son of I.M. Pei and partner in the New York-based Pei Partnership Architects. It features a glass face with a replica slave ship as its centerpiece.

Pei is still finalizing construction details so approvals are being sought piecemeal, which Hornung said is not unusual for a large project.

The next step in the process is to submit a grading plan. Hornung estimated clearing, erosion control and grading will be finished in six months. He anticipates site-plan approval this summer.

According to the museum's Web site, the facility will include more than 100,000 feet of exhibit space and cover a broad timeframe--from "Africa as the cradle of civilization through the Middle Passage on slave ships, to the slave resistance movement, the Civil War and the continuing struggle for equality today."

Original estimates for the museum had it costing about $200 million, but one board member said this summer that he thinks it will cost only half that because the Silver Cos. donated the land.

The major announcement regarding fund-raising to date was a pledge this fall by entertainer and board member Bill Cosby to donate the proceeds from 10 of his shows.

The slavery museum is being built within the Fredericksburg portion of the Celebrate Virginia tourism complex--a Silver Cos. development that is to include golf courses, hotels and a convention center.

A buffer of trees and a natural decline in the land is being left between the museum site and the one for the planned convention center.

The museum site is visible from southbound I-95 as travelers approach the bridge over the Rappahannock River. It sits above a quarry and about 200 yards left of a billboard that currently advertises for Shoney's.

The U.S. National Slavery Museum was inspired by founder L. Douglas Wilder during his term as Virginia's governor. Wilder, the grandson of slaves and the nation's first elected black governor, has said the idea was born while visiting Goree Island in West Africa.

Wilder held a ceremonial groundbreaking last December in the Fleming-Smith Room at Kenmore Plantation & Gardens.

To reach PAMELA GOULD: 540/657-9101

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