NEW YORK – When a jury chose a Sept. 11 memorial design from more than 5,000 entries, the panel praised it for the "powerful, yet simple" use of reflecting pools to represent the destroyed World Trade Center. More than two years later, nothing is simple about the memorial, called "Reflecting Absence," which was sent back for a redesign after contractors concluded that it could cost nearly $1 billion.
A builder appointed by Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is due to present new options Thursday that would cut the memorial's cost to $500 million. Officials hope to open the memorial in three years; preliminary construction that began in March has stopped.
While builder Frank Sciame was told to stay true to the original design, a rebuilding committee has considered everything from the cost of maintaining oak trees that would surround the pools to the skyrocketing prices of concrete and steel.
Sciame recently met with some family members who say that setting a Sept. 11 museum and parts of the memorial below street level as planned would be unsafe to evacuate and disrespectful to the nearly 3,000 people killed.
Much discussion has focused on whether to reduce the size of a planned museum, priced at around $150 million.
Bloomberg has suggested locating the museum, planned to fill several hundred thousand feet, in the lobby of the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower now under construction.
"That's the iconic building and its fits, it really makes some sense and you're going to build it anyways," he said earlier this month.
Family members said that would do a disservice to their loved ones and to Americans who want to hear the story of Sept. 11.
"It's simply inexcusable to say today ... that after all this spending, 'Gee, I'm sorry, we don't have enough money to secure the story,'" said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
Burlingame, a board member of the foundation raising money for the memorial, noted that the Freedom Tower has been slow to attract tenants because of terrorism fears.
"I know you have armed federal agents who do not want to be in that tower and now you have the mayor talking about bringing schoolchildren in there," she said.
The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation struggled to raise $130 million from private donors in a year; its president, Gretchen Dykstra, resigned last month. Up to $350 million in government money has been committed so far.
Some officials have said the museum was not part of the original plan for the memorial. But Libeskind said his master plan called for a place to display large artifacts on the site.
Officials are also considering shifting the cost of preparing the site for construction to government agencies overseeing rebuilding. Pataki said last week that "government resources" should pay to make the site buildable, which would knock more than $200 million off the memorial's price.
Bloomberg initially said the $500 million budget should include all costs. He said last week he wouldn't support a budget "unless it's something that I believe we can identify the funding sources before we start."
The underground design, which would lead visitors from the pools to galleries where visitors can view the names of the dead, is said to be favored by many architects on the committee.
Officials also are struggling to reduce the costs of restoring the slurry wall that prevented the Hudson River from flooding the site — one of the last remnants from the trade center.
"The integrity of the memorial, the integrity of the footprints, the slurry wall," Libeskind said. "All of that needs to be maintained, and it will be."