WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2011 — Arlington National Cemetery began its first major construction project in nearly eight years today with a ground-breaking ceremony for a 20,000-niche columbarium that will extend the life of the cemetery’s inurnment space to 2024.
A columbarium is a structure that holds urns containing cremated remains. Construction on the cemetery’s ninth columbarium begins in January, with completion expected in June 2013, said Army Col. Victoria Bruzese, the cemetery’s chief engineer. The new structure will dwarf the previous eight columbariums, she added, the largest of which contains 8,000 niches and the smallest 3,000.
“This will be 540 feet long, 116 feet wide, and at its highest elevation about 11 feet tall,” Bruzese said following the ground-breaking. “We’ll have more than 20,000 niches, which gives us the ability to have three to four inurnments within each niche — service member, spouse, children — so we’re looking at more than 60,000 inurnments, so that’s significant.”
The new columbarium will be almost the length of two football fields.
Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program, told the audience of mostly cemetery grounds-keepers and staff workers that construction of the new columbarium would “extend the life of our inurnment space out to 2024.”
Officials also plan to expand the cemetery’s grounds on two sides by another 70 acres. That will further extend the cemetery’s ability to handle inurnments, burials and possibly mausoleums out to the 2050s, Bruzese said. She noted the biggest challenge to overcome will be the lack of attention paid to the infrastructure over the years.
“There are two expansion opportunities here on the horizon — our Millennium Project, which is a 30-acre combination of land we acquired from Fort Myer and the National Park Service, and already existing [cemetery] land that will increase our in-ground and niche burial capability,” Bruzese said. The second expansion includes a 40-acre plot that’s now occupied by the Navy Annex on the cemetery’s south side.
Bruzese said she requested the chief engineer position at the cemetery following a deployment to Afghanistan. One reason she cited was that her father and her grandfather are inurned there.
“But when I heard about the challenges going on here, I wanted to be part of the solution,” she said. “I think that’s what you’ll find with anybody who’s on the staff here. … They want to be part of the solution in returning the dignity and honor not only to the cemetery, but [also] to the veterans who lie here.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)