The first burial could occur within two years at the Sarpy County site that will be consecrated as eastern Nebraska's first national military cemetery, federal officials said Tuesday.
A pair of engineers from the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Construction unveiled the first designs for the 230-acre cemetery in a downtown Omaha meeting room overflowing with about 80 local veterans.
Many of them seemed to like what they saw.
“There were a lot of questions,” said James McCoy, 83, of Bellevue, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, “and this answered them.”
The $36 million contract to build the first phase of the cemetery was approved last summer by the U.S. House as part of a $73 billion appropriations bill for VA and military construction projects. That bill still is waiting approval by the Senate.
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But architects from Vireo, an Omaha landscape architecture firm, have begun drawing up plans for the western half of the site, which is along Schram Road between 132nd and 144th Streets. The VA bought the land last December for $6.2 million.
Project Manager David Martino said the centerpiece will be a flag assembly area at the highest point on the site, where services for Memorial Day and Veterans Day can be held. Nearby will be a memorial walkway, where vets groups may put up monuments.
The first phase, 35 acres, also will include 2,500 in-ground burial crypts as well as 3,000 spaces for cremated remains.
A stream running across the site will be preserved, Martino said, and land that isn't yet needed will be sown with native meadow grasses and wildflowers.
“It's very peaceful and monumental, fitting for a national memorial,” he said.
Design is scheduled to last two years and construction for two years, said Mark Tillotson, director of the VA's National Region.
But the second year of design and the first year of construction will overlap, allowing the first burials by summer 2015 and completion of the first phase a year later, he said.
The headstones will be white marble unless local veterans choose a different style, Tillotson said. “We want the marble to be as pure as possible,” he said.
The cemetery eventually could hold up to 130,000 graves and is expected to accept new burials for 200 years, Martino said.