MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This Thursday marks a year since a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. And as the anniversary approaches, a memorial wooden structure is being built in neighboring Coral Springs. Its creator calls it a Temple of Time that is meant to help the community heal. NPR's Greg Allen reports that after three months, it will be set on fire and destroyed.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: On an empty lot across the street from Coral Springs City Hall, for two weeks now, the tower has slowly been taking shape.
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ALLEN: Sheets of beech plywood have been milled into intricate lace-like designs. They'll form the walls and ceiling of a nearly 40-foot-tall wooden structure that artist David Best calls a temple.
DAVID BEST: Yeah. I could back up and say it looks like a Balinese or a Tibetan or Hindu or an ornate Gothic cathedral. But I think more and more, as I built them over the years, it's more what they feel like than what they look like.
ALLEN: Best, who's from Northern California, has been building temples like this since 2000, when he got started at Burning Man, the annual gathering in the Nevada desert. His first commemorated the death of a friend who died in a motorcycle accident. The second year, he and his collaborators built a larger and more ornate structure to remember those who had taken their own lives.
BEST: In that year, 500 people put names of people that had taken their life, and we burned it on Sunday night.
ALLEN: One of Best's biggest projects was in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 2015. Some 80,000 people visited over the course of a week. Paul Walker, one of Best's regular crew members, says visitors often leave behind photos or other mementos of loved ones.
PAUL WALKER: In our experience where we've done these, the whole thing will be covered in writing instead of anger, fear. It's a medium for you to put these things into there. And, eventually, sort of - come several months down the line, this will go up in flames.
ALLEN: The structure Best and his crew of volunteers are building in Coral Springs is intended to help the community commemorate those who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But he says it's more than just a memorial.
BEST: The temple that we're building here requires participation. It's not a bronze memorial that someone's going to walk up to. This community, who's suffered a tremendous amount of loss - it's coming here and participating in building it.
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ALLEN: Margaret McCourt is one of them. She lives in Parkland. She's busy gluing small wooden pieces to a large sheet of birch plywood.
MARGARET MCCOURT: This is a wooden mosaic. It's going to form parts of the floor of the temple I believe. And it's - as you can see, it's a beautiful mosaic. And there are 29 I think pieces like this.
ALLEN: Nearly a year after the tragedy, McCourt says the deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are a deep pain that still takes her breath away.
MCCOURT: We lost friends, so it's - there's no getting over this. You just have to acquire the tools to deal with it. And if this gives people tools to deal with it, this is a good thing.
ALLEN: Coral Springs Museum of Art brought David Best and his crew in with the help of Bloomberg Philanthropies and a $1 million grant. The tower project grew out of an art therapy program the museum began for students after last year's tragedy. Les Gordon, a family therapist who works with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, is one of those helping build the temple. The first anniversary of a trauma like this, he says, is especially painful.
LES GORDON: Some people choose not to go to school. They choose to go out of town. Other people just want a quiet day fishing. Some people want to be with other people, go on a - go to the garden or come here to this wonderful expressive artistic therapy that's going on.
ALLEN: This temple is intended to help the people of Parkland and Coral Springs. But artist David Best says he would never call it a Temple of Healing. He says he's not a healer.
BEST: I'm not capable of doing that. This is - it's the Temple of Time, going to take a long time for this community to get over what it's experienced.
ALLEN: The Temple of Time opens to the public Wednesday in Coral Springs and remains open until mid-May. At some point that month, when the weather and fire marshal permits, the temple, along with whatever mementos visitors have left behind, will go up in flames.
Greg Allen, NPR News. Coral Springs, Fla.
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