While no internments are expected until 2016 and construction is unlikely to begin until 2015, the U.S. Veterans Administration gave area veterans an update on the Omaha National Cemetery last week.
The cemetery, which will serve as both a final resting place for veterans and a national shrine, was at the midpoint of master planning, said Mark Tillotson, presenting on behalf of the Veterans Administration. Tillotson spoke Dec. 17 in Omaha during an update briefing on Phase I of the project.
“Our intent with this meeting is to provide a birdshot view of where we are now and answer questions,” Tillotson said.
Tillotson and project manager David Martino were able to present some preliminary ideas and sketches about the proposed cemetery, but nothing is certain as yet.
While legislation has already approved the cemetery, money for the Omaha National Cemetery has not yet been appropriated.
“We don’t expect any problems in getting that money,” Tillotson said.
Tillotson said work cannot begin until an appropriation occurs, although construction is planned to begin by September 2015, if not a little sooner.
A contract for the design/build portion of the project is expected by September 2014, Tillotson and Martino said, with groundbreaking and construction anticipated to begin nine months to a year later.
“We should have the first internments in August or September of 2016,” Martino said.
Martino said all permanent facilities, as well as 35 acres of internment areas for the first 10 years of burials, will be completed by the end of Phase I. Cemetery construction will not require additional funding for another 10 years once the first phase is completed.
From there, the project will be phased in 10-year chunks for the next 200 years, adding additional capacity to the cemetery.
The project has already moved through the first three steps of its five-step process: site selection, environmental assessment and land acquisition.
Tillotson said the standard changed five years ago to measure the percentage of veterans that currently live within a 75-mile radius of a veterans’ cemetery. The change prompted the addition of five new cemeteries, including the one in Nebraska.
“In deciding where to put the cemeteries, we had to look at the veteran population in the area and place the cemetery in such a spot that a 75-mile radius would collect enough of the veteran population to justify building a cemetery there,” Tillotson said.
The future location of the Omaha National Cemetery, 230 acres at Schram Road and Highway 50 near Springfield, would include Omaha and Lincoln both in its radius.
With the land already purchased, the project can move in to its final two steps: design and construction. Martino said he is currently working on a master plan with a local firm.
The plan thus far includes 2,500 preplaced crypts, 1,200 preplaced urn crypts for those who prefer cremation, 1,800 columbarium niches and a memorial wall and walkway.
The cemetery will have a 3,600-square-foot public information center and administration building, a 6,700-square-foot maintenance building, a 1,400-square-foot honor guard building, two committal service shelters and a flag assembly area.
Martino said the biggest constraints on the project at present are preserving the existing stream in the northwest quadrant of the property, finding a way to construct permanent facilities while still operating the early turnover section and working with off-site road infrastructure.
Martino said the Veterans Administration will pay to pave and improve Schram Road from the intersection at Highway 50 up to the entrance to the cemetery itself.
If more of Schram Road needs to be paved at a later date, Martino said the cost would probably be split between the VA and the county.
After the presentation, the pair fielded questions from veterans in attendance.
Topics included how family members and spouses can qualify to be buried there as well. Veterans who were not dishonorably discharged and their spouses, children or parents may qualify to be buried in the Omaha National Cemetery depending on a variety of factors.
Full details on eligibility requirements can be found at www.cem.va.gov/burial_benefits/eligible.asp.
The name of the cemetery was also brought up for discussion.
“Right now, we’re calling it the Omaha National Cemetery,” Tillotson said. “But a letter will be sent to all veterans’ groups requesting name suggestions that reflect and identify the region, and then everyone will have a chance to vote.”