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Structural engineer forever tied to his first project

Ben Luschen Published: July 20, 2013


Staff Writer




Mark McKinney couldn’t hold his tears back any longer.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum was the first architectural project McKinney had ever supervised as structural engineer for SAIC, Inc. Back in 1998, when the memorial was still being constructed, he often visited the site as part of his job.

One Saturday morning though, McKinney decided to inspect the project on his own time.

“For the first time, I took the time to look at the items on the fence,” McKinney said. “Back then it was just family members who were leaving items on the fence, it wasn’t visitors from across the country. Reading those notes and seeing the pictures and the gifts, I couldn’t help but just start crying.”

What he saw changed his perspective on the memorial project.

“It was a good reminder of what this is all about,” McKinney said. “What was lost that day can never be replaced.”

On the morning of April 19, 1995, McKinney was working for another engineering firm, sitting at his desk in an office building on NW 63 and Broadway, about four miles north of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

At 9:02 a.m., he heard a blast so loud he thought the roof had collapsed on top of a floor above him. Then he looked outside and saw the smoke.

The next day, McKinney teamed up with a group of other structural engineers from around the city and inspected the structures surrounding the federal building. The damages were extensive.

“You walk into the building and everything that could fall from the ceiling had fallen; light fixtures, duct work, wiring, everything,” he said.

McKinney, 42, was 28 when he began working on the memorial project. He had a hand in the structural design of many memorial features, including the area around the Survivor Tree, and structural features of the 9:01 and 9:03 gates.

McKinney and SAIC have also been asked to assist in the upcoming renovations to the memorial museum. For McKinney, it’s gratifying to know the work he did so long ago is still relevant to so many people.

“Even now, when I come down here on occasion, there are always people here,” he said. “No matter what day, what time, there are always people here. That’s not something that can be said of all our projects.”