Jefferson Barracks Cemetery running out of land; new project hopes to remedy that

11:19 PM, Nov 11, 2009   |    comments
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By Ann Rubin

KSDK -- It's one of the most sacred cemeteries in the country. On this Veterans Day, there is concern about the future of Jefferson Barracks. They're running out of land to bury veterans.

But thanks to some creative consolidation by the St. Louis VA Medical Center next door, the cemetery is receiving enough additional acreage to last them until 2025.

The first steps of the project have already begun, with the VA giving the cemetery about 10 additional acres. By the time they're finished, they hope to bring that number up to 30 acres. What happens next is a construction project so big, they refer to it simply as "major." All it requires is the approval of Congress to get going.

Each year on Veterans Day, there are new visitors to Jefferson Barracks, visiting new graves. Not only is there a war on, but World War II veterans are reaching a certain age. The government estimates about a 1,000 of them are buried each day. With those numbers adding up, the trouble here is no secret: they're running out of space.

Cemetery officials have tried everything, including reducing size of plots by a foot. Still it's not enough. That's where the neighboring VA Medical Center comes in. They've got a plan, they say will help. It involves some consolidation, a lot of construction, and a gift of more land to Jefferson Barracks.

"Until we get the final construction plans we won't have the final numbers, but we're estimating it to be about 30 acres," said VA spokesperson Marcena Gunter.

They're tearing down several buildings, including the theater and gymnasium. They say the antiquated facilities are just too costly to keep up. They then plan to build new, multi-story structures on the other side of the property which will be more efficient and take up less space.

The extra land they vacate should buy the cemetery some extra time.

"Now with the projects that are phased in, certainly we will be able to keep them afloat hopefully for another ten years and maybe even longer," Gunter said.

For those that visit Jefferson Barracks that time and this space is important. Karin Forsythe, whose husband is buried at the cemetery, knows that firsthand.

"It's just important for the families to be able to come someplace to honor them you know and see them," Forsythe said.

The VA Medical Center calls the project a win-win situation. While they will be getting rid of some old buildings, they'll be gaining several new ones including an athletic complex, spinal cord center and outpatient clinic.


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