Arlington National Cemetery Breaks Ground for Columbarium

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.

Offi­cials break ground for a new 20,000-niche colum­bar­i­um at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery in Arling­ton, Va., Nov. 30, 2011. The colum­bar­i­um, sched­uled for com­ple­tion in June 2013, will extend the life of the cemetery’s inurn­ment space to 2024.
U.S. Army pho­to by J.D. Leipold
Click to enlarge

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) 

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