Cemetery rework to start after holiday

The refurbishing of more than 1,500 gravesites at Makawao Veterans Cemetery, originally set to begin in March, will get underway after Memorial Day following meetings with veterans groups, family members and the community, a state veterans official said Monday.

The $1.1 million grave restoration project involves raising, realigning and cleaning headstones and resodding gravesites with 132,000 square feet of turf, according to a state Department of Defense news release. An asphalt walkway on the eastern part of the cemetery also will be removed.

The project, covering 3 acres of the 7-acre cemetery, will require areas to be cordoned off for safety reasons, according to the news release. The gravesites will not be accessible to family and friends during that time. To minimize the disruptions to visitations, the work will be done in phases.

The work is expected to take a year.

A meeting in late February with veterans and family members that drew about 30 to 40 people led to the postponing of the work until after Memorial Day, per a request by veterans, said Ronald P. Han Jr., director of the Hawaii State Veterans Services, on Monday. Representatives of the contractor, BCP Construction of Hawaii, who attended the meeting, agreed to begin the day after Memorial Day.

“They brought up some really good ideas,” Han said of those attending the meeting.

As a result of the gathering, a “Temporary Remembrance Area” will be set up where flowers can be placed. There also will be an informational sign explaining the extent of the work and the limits and the duration of each phase posted at the cemetery’s Committal Shelter.

In addition, Han said, brochures are being developed and will be available at the cemetery and mailed to family members.

“We really want the community to understand and embrace (the project),” he said.

The contractor will be working on clusters of about 500 gravesites at a time, with each section taking about three months to complete with the sodding, said Han, earlier this year. A total of 1,554 headstones – about two-thirds of the 2,400 gravesites at the cemetery – will be renovated.

Currently, gravestones sit at differing heights and are not precisely in alignment with others in the row, said Han earlier this year. Some of the gravestones at the cemetery, which held its first burial in January 1951, also have weathered over time.

Prior to their removal, grave markers will be photographed and located by geographic coordinates and kept within limits of the grave to ensure that they are reinstalled with the correct grave, the Defense Department news release said.

In other news regarding the cemetery, the deed for a 10-acre expansion is expected to be signed over to the state at the end of the month, Han said. Last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie released $5 million for the expansion, which is projected to add more than 14,000 new gravesites and niches, an environmental assessment said.

The cemetery was reaching its capacity, necessitating the expansion. The purchase of 10 acres from an adjacent property was approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources in April, Han said.

The project will be built in phases and will include improvements to the driveway and entrance to the cemetery, relocation and expansion of the parking lot, construction of a new circulation road and maintenance yard, creation of a formal flag assembly area, construction of burial crypts and niches, and grassing and other landscaping and irrigation improvements, the news release said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.