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Ike Memorial Panned as ‘5-Star Folly’

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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After 15 years, $65 million in appropriations, and not a shovel of dirt turned, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission can add a congressional oversight panel to its growing list of critics.

Congress has already cut construction funding, and even the Eisenhower family has objected to the execution of the memorial, which was conceived as a six-year, $100 million project.

Now, the controversial project has been dissected in a scathing staff report by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

Eisenhower Memorial EisenhowerMemorial
Eisenhower Memorial Commission

The four-acre site would be framed by three stainless-steel tapestries featuring scenery from Kansas. The tapestries would be supported by a colonnade of limestone-clad columns 80 feet tall.

The details consume 58 pages, but the committee makes its point in the title: A Five-Star Folly: An Investigation into the Cost Increases, Construction Delays, and Design Problems that Have Been a Disservice to the Effort to Memorialize Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The findings include allegations that the commission has:

  • Paid more than $1.4 million to fundraising companies that have raised less than $500,000 toward a $35 million goal;
  • Awarded several contracts to sole-source vendors without an open competition; and
  • Modified "almost every contract" multiple times, to the tune of "millions of dollars in additional costs."

'Repeated Failure'

Although not officially adopted by the committee, the staff report is a detailed indictment of the time and resources expended on the 15-year-old memorial project: from its "unprecedented" design selection process, to its "repeated failure to satisfy all legal requirements," to its "unanticipated costs and delays due to conversial elements of the selected design."

The report raises "significant questions that undermine the viability" of the controversial Frank Gehry design to memorialize the nation's 34th President and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.

The report is merely the latest chorus of criticism about the project's design and progress. Other critics include:

The 12-member Memorial Commission was established in 1999 and did not select a site until 2005. It selected the Gehry design in 2008 after a competition. Gehry, now 85, says he had not designed a memorial before but was intrigued by Eisenhower.

Honoring Ike

Critics are not challenging the merits of the project—just its execution.

Eisenhower Memorial Commission

Critics, including the Eisenhower family, call the design too elaborate and expensive, with unknown maintenance costs. The design also violates guidelines laid down years before it was submitted for approval.

"Everyone, critics and advocates alike, want a memorial, a monument, that truly honors President Eisenhower and helps future generations of Americans undersand and appreciate his role in American history," U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) told an oversight hearing on the project in 2012.

That's about all critics and advocates agree on, however. The design, critics say, is too elaborate, too expensive, and too vulnerable to the elements. And the process, they say, has been unaccountable and out of control.

The four-acre site off the National Mall would be framed by three stainless-steel tapestries featuring scenery from Kansas. The tapestries would be supported by a colonnade of limestone-clad columns 80 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter.

The memorial’s core would feature limestone bas-relief blocks, free-standing bronze sculpture, quotations that honor Eisenhower, and a 2,400-square-foot visitor center.

$65.4M Appropriation

Congress has appropriated about $65.4 million for the project since the commission was established. More than  $40 million of that has been spent, the report says.

Not only has construction not begun, but Congress revoked the commission's construction authority in 2013. The commission has not met since June 2013 and does not plan to meet until next month.

Daniel Fiel Frank Gehry
Eisenhower Memorial Commission (left); Creative Commons (right)

The commission has paid more than $11 million toward a $19 million contract with architect Frank Gehry (right) and $1.7 million to its own Executive Architect, Daniel Fiel (left).

Also last year, Bishop and six co-sponsors introduced an unsuccessful bill, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Completion Act, that would have limited terms on the commission and prohibited the use of federal funds for the project.

$19M Gehry Contract

The House report says that an accounting of the memorial costs is still incomplete, but it does note:

  • $11 million paid and $3.3 million in pending payments to Gehry and his firm for a design that does not meet legal requirements and design principles outlined in 2006. Including unexercised options, the Gehry contract totals $19 million;
  • Payments of more than $7.2 million to Gilbane Building Company, to manage construction and design;
  • Payments of almost $1.7 million to Executive Architect Daniel Feil for design management;
  • Millions of dollars spent to support the commission's politically connected nine-member staff and offices;
  • A jury evaluation that deemed the design entries "mediocre" and recommended an additional round of submissions—a recommendation the commission ignored; and
  • A design selection process that "substantially deviated from the standard Design Excellence Program" and was "weighted" to favor a well-known designer like Gehry.

"With millions spent," the panel concludes, "there is no memorial, and not even a memorial design that can be approved for construction."


Tagged categories: Architects; Construction; Design; Frank Gehry; Government contracts; Historic Structures; Monuments; Project Management

Comment from Tony Rangus, (9/2/2014, 4:54 PM)

Doesn't this sound like it needs some felony prosecutions?

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