Construction Executive: Set In Stone

by Maggie Murphy

On the evening of June 17, 2015, congregants gathered at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for a standing bible study led by senior pastor and state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney. What began as an evening of fellowship and worship quickly turned into an unfathomable nightmare when a gunman opened fire in a racially motivated attack that ultimately took the lives of nine people and injured five others.

Today, a memorial is under construction at the site of the massacre, near the church’s Calhoun Street entrance, to commemorate those nine victims and five survivors—an undertaking led by national contractor Balfour Beatty, which is donating its construction services to the effort. “As we embark on construction, our project team and industry partners are dedicated to building each of the memorial’s components with dignity and respect of the nine lives lost and survivors,” says Scott Skidelsky, president of Southeast operations for Balfour Beatty, “and working with the families, loved ones, Mother Emanuel Church members and the Charleston community in providing a sacred place of remembrance and reflection for all.”

The project team will bring to life three components, thoughtfully designed by Handel Architects, whose previous work includes the National September 11 Memorial in New York City: the Memorial Courtyard, the Survivors’ Garden and the Contemplation Basin. The 6,000-square-foot Courtyard will feature benches made of marble blocks with high backs that arc up and around anyone seated on them, like sheltering wings. At its center will stand a fountain carved with the names of the Emanuel Nine: Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie J. Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. and Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson.

The Contemplation Basin will feature a 10.5-foot-tall cross above a marble altar, offering visitors a quiet place for reflection. A pathway from the Basin will lead to the Survivors’ Garden, which comprises a 49-foot-by-34-foot lawn with six stone benches. Six trees will also be planted to symbolize the five survivors, the sixth signifying the survival of the church itself. The memorial design is intended to reflect the ways in which Emanuel Nine family members relied on the bedrock of their faith to reverse the spread of hate with a message of unyielding love and forgiveness.

“Our teammates live and work in the Charleston area, and it is an honor to be asked to be a part of something that provides a space in the community for contemplation, communion and conversation, which is a catalyst for culture change where racism and violence no longer exist,” says Nick Wegener, Balfour Beatty’s operations director in South Carolina. “We are also grateful for the opportunity to work in partnership with the families, loved ones and local community and the Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation board. We are captivated by the design team’s thought, consideration and vision to truly create a unique, meaningful memorial.”

Annie Hughes, Balfour Beatty director of preconstruction in the Carolinas, adds: “Balfour Beatty is committed to exuding the highest level of thought and care throughout the project’s delivery. It makes me extremely proud to be a part of building the Emanuel Nine Memorial for Mother Emanuel AME Church and the City of Charleston, which will soon be a place that encourages reflection and positive change in the community.”

In addition to Handel Architects, Balfour Beatty is partnering with Guy Nordenson and Associates, DesignWorks, Thomas & Hutton, S&ME, Dan Euser Water Architecture and Fisher Marantz Stone to deliver the memorial. Construction began in July, with an expected opening in 2024. During active construction of the memorial, a preview of the fellowship benches has been placed on church grounds, which are now open to the public. 

Read the community column in the digital edition of Construction Executive's Sep-Oct 2023 issue here