(Updated 8/27/21) The long-planned 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center is aiming for a September 2025 opening, executive director Jim Laychak tells ARLnow.
A video announcement with updated designs, plans, and visuals for the education center that will be located along the soon-to-be-realigned Columbia Pike will be unveiled in the coming weeks and prior to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Laychak says.
The website and provided renderings currently shows a sleek, modern design with exhibits, “interactive biographies” of those who died at the Pentagon on 9/11, a rooftop terrace, ample parking, and a family gallery.
Construction on the anticipated companion to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial is expected to start within two years.
“September 2023, we could start construction and, in two years from that, we will be open,” says Laychak, who also oversaw the building of the nearby memorial. “It’s about a two year construction [phase].”
However, that timeline isn’t set and and is dependent on the completion of the Arlington National Cemetery Defense Access Roads Project. That project will realign Columbia Pike, modify the S. Joyce Street intersection, and shift the Columbia Pike and Washington Blvd. interchange. This is all being done to allow for Arlington National Cemetery to expand.
“The site where we are going to build is on that whole grassy area where the gas station used to be,” says Laychak. “It’s got a cloverleaf there and… that needs to change to a parallel on and off ramp… to Washington Blvd. So, all of that needs to happen first.”
Construction on the road realignment was originally slated to start in “summer 2021,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website, but work hasn’t begun yet.
ARLnow has reached out to the department about an updated timeline for the project but has yet to hear back as of publication.
The Pentagon Memorial opened to the public in 2008, but the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center wasn’t announced until late September 2015. It will sit on land owned by Arlington National Cemetery.
“The 9/11 Pentagon Visitor Education Center site is in a dramatic location,” the museum’s website said back in 2015. “Right where the attack of 9/11 took place and adjacent to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and Air Force Memorial.”
In 2016, renderings were displayed at the Pentagon City mall. Initially, it was expected to be completed by 2020 but that didn’t happen due to the project needing to wait for the ANC expansion and roads projects to take shape, says Laychak.
The last few years have mostly been filled with completing the architecture design, raising money, and reassembling a board of directors that now includes Sean Connaughton, a former Virginia transportation secretary.
The project has raised about $5 million, which was used to complete the design of the education center and exhibits. Overall, it will need to raise another $80 million, which Laychak estimates will be a split between federal appropriations (much like what was the case for the memorial) and private funds. The executive team is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise those funds.
Laychak believes the addition of the education center, along with the expansion of the cemetery and the roads project, will transform the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial into a “destination location.” It will also make the memorial much easier to get to, he says, since right now it can be a bit of a maze of a walk through parking lots, concrete barriers, and closed access points.
Building the memorial and the education center is also personal for Laychak. His younger brother Dave was killed at the Pentagon on 9/11. He says the 20th anniversary of the attack is certainly tough, but not anymore so than any other anniversary.
“All of them are [tough],” he says. “One is not any more or less meaningful than the other, though you start to realize how much life has gone on without Dave.”
While the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial will likely be closed to the public on the 20th anniversary due to COVID protocols, Laychak will be in attendance at the small ceremony being held there for family. He says it’s important to have this education center not only to preserve the legacy of Dave and others that died, but because to educate those who may not remember.
“We’ve got a whole generation that’s grown up that has no memory of 9/11,” he says. “They didn’t experience what happened that day, remember the horror of it, or the uncertainty of what was going on. It’s to remind people and tell the story of what happened.”
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