Borough will add cemetery plots and more spaces for urns

The borough is moving to solve the problem of dwindling burial space in town.

The community this summer will get a new columbarium, a structure for keeping urns, and the borough assembly has approved an expansion to Sunset Gardens Cemetery. The expansion, in two phases, will add 100 burial plots.

Only three plots remain in Sunset Gardens at 1.5 Mile Zimovia Highway, on the uplands side of the highway, and four in Memorial Cemetery at 1 Mile, on the water side of the highway.

But even that number is iffy. “The borough has been reluctant to sell plots in the Memorial Cemetery since some plots that are shown as reserved or unoccupied are in fact occupied,” Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad wrote in a report to the assembly.

Seventeen niches remain available in Wrangell’s 100-niche columbarium.

The assembly at its April 12 meeting approved spending $57,739 to buy and install a new 100-niche columbarium.

A cost estimate for expanding Sunset Gardens will come later this year, after surveying is done and the excavation work is put out for bid, Public Works Director Tom Wetor said Thursday.

The columbarium budget includes almost $37,000 to buy the unit from Sunset Memorial & Stone, in Calgary, Alberta, which built Wrangell’s existing columbarium almost 20 years ago; about $3,000 to ship the 10,000-pound granite structure to Seattle and by barge to Wrangell; and $15,500 to construct a concrete pad.

The columbarium will be about 12 feet long by six feet high.

A granite square shutter will cover each niche face, with a key-locked aluminum security door, reducing cemetery operating expenses by eliminating the need for staff to be on site when a granite shutter is removed for inscription.

Borough staff are considering a reservation limit of two niches per person, because, similar to Sunset Gardens Cemetery, not having a reservation limit led to reservation of 12 or 16 spots at a time in the first columbarium, Borough Clerk Kim Lane told the assembly.

The new columbarium will be installed next to the existing one. The new one also will have more space for memorial plaques on the outside.

The first expansion phase of Sunset Gardens would add 50 plots, with 10 plots in the southwest corner of the cemetery and 40 at the site of the existing parking lot.

“The existing parking lot would be excavated, surveyed and plotted for new burials. The disturbed ground next to the existing parking lot will be cleared and graded for new parking,” Wetor, Lane and Al-Haddad wrote in their report to the assembly.

Wetor said Thursday he expects the project will be put out to bid for excavation in the next couple of months, with the work expected to start in four to six months.

He hopes the work can get underway at the same time as installation of the new columbarium this summer, or shortly after.

A second phase of the cemetery expansion would add another 50 plots, possibly next year, for a total of 100 plots in the two phases.

Wrangell’s cemeteries are a unique thing, management-wise, Wetor said.

“The clerk manages the sale of plots and works with families on that side of that,” he said. “The clerk also helped this year with the budget aspect. Public Works digs the graves, and historically has managed the budget, which hasn’t really changed much. Capital Facilities is involved because it’s a large project that would involve outside entities. And Parks and Rec is actually who cuts the grass.”


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