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News: 10,000 more plots for veterans planned at National Cemetery of Alleghenies
04/21/2015 - by Tony Raap - TRIBLIVE
Sunday, April 19, 2015

The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies plans to add more than 10,000 burial sites for veterans. The proposed 25-acre expansion would include at least 6,500 burial plots and an above-ground tomb, or columbarium, that would hold 4,000 funeral urns, cemetery director Ronald Hestdalen said. It's unclear how much the project would cost, because plans are in the design phase, Hestdalen said. The expansion would be on land the cemetery owns. Construction may begin in the spring if the Department of Veterans Affairs approves the proposal. “Plans have started, but nothing has been finalized,” Hestdalen said. About 10,000 people are buried at the cemetery in Cecil. It is one of three national cemeteries in Pennsylvania with open burial space. The site covers 292 acres — only 91 have been developed — and has room for 160,000 burial plots. “We have enough acreage to develop way into the future,” Hestdalen said. The cemetery opened in 2005. The federal government paid about $4 million for the land, and construction cost $14.8 million, said Kristen Parker, spokeswoman for the VA's National Cemetery Administration. It isn't uncommon for national cemeteries to expand after 10 years. Many undergo four or five expansions before filling up, Parker said. In recent years, the VA has added burial plots at cemeteries in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. “All national cemeteries have to expand eventually,” Parker said. The cemetery in Cecil averages 27 burials a week, Hestdalen said. The proposal would ensure enough burial space for the next decade, he said. Road repairs, more signs and a second columbarium are part of the expansion plans. The columbarium is more than half full, Hestdalen said. Any honorably discharged veteran can be buried at the cemetery. More than 300,000 veterans live in Western Pennsylvania, according to the VA. “Any extension would be phenomenal,” said John Lee, commander of VFW Post 7714 in Imperial. “It would be a great benefit for everyone in this area.” Although there are other national cemeteries in the state, veterans want to be buried nearby so relatives can visit, said Ray Amelio, interim executive director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. “It's filling up very rapidly,” he said of the cemetery in Cecil. “As many veterans who want to be buried there, the cemetery should be able to accommodate.”

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