As burial space decreases in Kenai’s cemetery — pictured here on March 17, 2017 — the Kenai City Council is taking steps on a long-planned expansion. On Wednesday council members voted unanomously to fund engineering plans for converting the vacant lot adjacent to the existing cemetery across Floatplane Road into new cemetery grounds. Construction of the expansion may begin this year. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai funds cemetery expansion plans

As burial space shrinks in the Kenai cemetery on Floatplane Road, the city government is taking steps toward the long-planned construction of new cemetery space across the street.

“It’s a project long overdue, and we’re pretty excited about it,” Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said of the expansion.

The architecture firm Klauder and Associates drew plans for a new burial ground on 4.10-acre vacant lot on the opposite side on Floatplane Road from the existing cemetery. On Wednesday the Kenai city council unanimously appropriated $17,183 to Nelson Engineering to expand that design into a detailed work plan. Nelson was the lowest of five bidders on the project — the highest was $30,991.

“This takes the conceptual design and gives us a civil engineering design that we can then construct,” Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said of the appropriation.

Ostrander told council members the expansion project doesn’t have a timeline, but that “we’re hoping to still have construction this season.”

“Whether or not it’s completed this year, I’m not certain,” Ostrander said.

The eventual construction will involve grading and planting the lot, surveying grave plots, building a parking lot and turnaround, installing a well and related infrastructure, and erecting a fence — similar in front to the aluminum barred fence around the existing cemetery and chainlink along the back of the lot, Frates said. Current estimates for the construction cost, he said, were between $260,000 and $250,00.

Kenai’s existing 9.56 acres of cemetery space continues to fill up rapidly. There were 65 open cemetery plots in January 2017, when Parks and Recreation considered raising cemetery fees from $250 for a standard plot to $1,000. Reservations poured in ahead of the increase, so that about half those spots remained two months later when the city council closed reservations by the still-living until the cemetery expansion is complete. Now about 20 plots remain, said Kenai City Clerk Jamie Heinz.

The cemetery’s 100-niche columbarium — a structure installed in August 2015 to house cremated ashes — has yet to have any urns sealed in it, Frates said.

Frates estimated the expanded cemetery would have roughly 350 standard plots, 180 infant plots, and 360 plots for cremation urns. The area surrounding the new cemetery lot is also designated for future cemetery expansion, to be built as needed, Frates said. City-owned property to the west is marked for the next phase of expansion, followed by the land to the north.

In addition to creating more space, Frates said the expansion would allow his department to work better in the new cemetery grounds than in the present one, where graves were laid out haphazardly in Kenai’s early days.

“This will give us an opportunity to kind of coherently lay out the cemetery in the most logical order,” Frates said. “That’s one of the issues with some of the cemeteries throughout the state — these things were often times put in years and years ago, and you’ve got plots running in all kinds of funky directions. This will definitely provide a lot more efficiency in our operation, in that everything’s going to be north, south, east, west oriented. Location of plots, finding plots will be much simpler.”

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