According to the National Cemetery Administration, a department of the Veterans Administration (VA), national cemeteries were first discussed during the Civil War.
At that time Congress authorized the purchase of sites to be used as burial grounds for officers and men who had died while fighting for the Union. Before then, the dead on both sides of the conflict had been buried on battlefields, near hospitals and camps, or transferred to families to make private burial arrangements. Two years after the end of the Civil War, the National Cemetery Act of 1867 provided for the foundation of national cemeteries and granted the first funds for the creation of these burial places.
The Veterans Administration currently operates 130 national cemeteries in the United States and is in the process of developing or planning a dozen new cemeteries for the benefit of veterans and eligible members of their families.
The Washington Crossing National Cemetery, located in Upper Makefield Township in Bucks County, Pa., will be the 131st such facility.
Situated a couple of miles from the Washington Crossing Historic Park where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River during the War of Independence, the cemetery opened in late 2009, although work continues on its construction.
The process of bringing the project to Bucks County began in 1998, when legislation was introduced calling for construction of a local national cemetery. However, it was not until 2006 that the VA purchased farmland in Lower Makefield Township for $10.5 million and the project got under way.
When completed, the 64-acre Phase 1 development will provide 15,500 full casket gravesites, including 15,100 pre-placed crypts, and 6,500 in-ground cremation sites and 4,100 columbarium niches. The new cemetery also will include an administration and public information center complex and public restrooms, a maintenance facility, a cemetery entrance area, a flag assembly area and committal shelters for funeral services.
Work began on the now completed Phase 1A of the project in May 2009. The $7.2 million contract for this phase was awarded to the U.S. Builders Group Inc., of Detroit, Mich.
The veteran-owned business was responsible for construction of a 20-acre tract providing more than 5,000 gravesites and almost 3,000 in-ground cremated remains sites as well temporary maintenance and administration buildings and a temporary funeral service shelter.
The contract for Phase 1B was awarded in 2010 to G&C Fab-Con LLC. Phase 1B of the two-part Phase I is now under way. Brubacher Excavating Inc, based in Bowmansville, Pa., is performing site work for this phase as it did for Phase 1A.
The first phase included an initial temporary entrance and roadway into the project in order to open the cemetery for use. Construction of the initial temporary facilities was on a fast track schedule and required a great deal of pre-planning and coordination in order to meet project milestones.
For Phase 1B, Brubacher Excavating is carrying out earthwork and grading, storm sewer, water lines, septic systems, concrete retaining walls and sidewalks, bituminous roadways, and other site amenities including fencing, guiderails and bollards.
With between 5 to 15 employees currently working on site, Brubacher is utilizing a small fleet of Caterpillar equipment, including two 627F scrapers, D-8 and D-6 dozers, a Cat 330 excavator, and a 938 rubber tire loader. Also at work are a John Deere 310 backhoe and a 450D excavator — as well as a Volvo A-40 40 ton articulated hauler and a Komatsu D-51 bulldozer.
The company began work on the VA funded Phase 1B contract in June 2010 and is on schedule for its estimated time of completion of November 2011.
Because of the sensitive nature of the site, Brubacher Excavating is making special arrangements to ensure it does not intrude upon grieving families and friends while carrying out its work. Its activities are scheduled around funeral services, adding another level of complexity to scheduling equipment to work in the committal shelter area where funerals are held.
The project has involved other challenges for the company. The weather was problematic, particularly during phase 1A. In 2009, the summer and early fall were the tenth wettest period in more than 130 years of record keeping. August was the third wettest in the Philadelphia area and at one point during September, site power was temporarily lost after high winds.
“A contributing factor to the challenge of maintaining the schedule was performing the majority of the bulk earthwork during the wet time of the year, with above average rainfalls. Strategic planning was used in sequencing the project to limit the amount of damage the weather caused to the soils on the project,” Brubacher’s spokesperson observed.
Another and particularly difficult challenge occurred during the first phase, when Brubacher built a PVC lined irrigation pond next to an existing stream, and the bottom elevation of the pond was below the stream bed.
“Detailed pre-planning, coordination, and conscious attention were needed in order to control ground water, prevent disturbance to the existing stream and keeping the PVC liner from floating,” the spokesperson noted.
“Also, the start of Phase 1B was delayed by an archaeological investigation, due to the proximity of the project to where George Washington had crossed the Delaware River. The schedule for the project had to be rearranged in order to work around the areas of concerns noted in the investigation.”
According to the U.S. military, when fully developed the Washington Crossing National Cemetery’s 205 acres will provide burial space for 40 to 50 years. Serving an estimated 580,000 veterans and eligible family members in the greater Philadelphia area, the Washington Crossing National Cemetery will ultimately have a total capacity of almost 125,000.
Ben Brubacher founded Brubacher Excavating Inc. in 1971. Handling projects in southeastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and Maryland, the company has been consecutively recognized for excellence in Construction Safety by the Keystone Chapter of The Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. over the past 6 years, including 2 years named as Gold Level Achiever. Its current projects include shoreline restoration at Perry Point Veteran’s Hospital in Maryland and numerous other earth moving, utility and paving projects throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. CEG
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