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State veterans cemetery still on course

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Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2004 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:13 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Jimmie Ferguson

Killeen Daily Herald

Now that the cows are out of the way, the contractor, working on the first-ever Texas state veterans' cemetery in Killeen, said everything is on schedule.

"As soon as we got the cows out and put the fence up, it was time to go to work," said Greg Richardson, the construction superintendent with CWR Construction Inc. of North Little Rock, Ark.. the company that's constructing the Killeen-based Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery on State Highway 195 at the intersection Chaparral Road.

The recent weeks of heavy rain may have dampened this $8 million-plus project but has not hampered the workers' progress, Richardson said.

"Everything is going pretty good ... just let it stop raining," Richardson said. "The week that it rained every day set us back a little, but since then we have been working 10-hour days, six days a week. We are on schedule to meet the July 2005 deadline."

Richardson said everybody, locally, has been great to work with.

"Everybody is excited," Richardson said. "And hopefully, it's going to be a gorgeous facility with all the trees and grass. An irrigation system will be installed, so they can keep everything real nice. The buildings are going to be very nice."

Richardson said they plan to build about 2,000 crypts in the ground on this 174-acre site that was officially transferred to the state of Texas Feb. 19, 2003, from Fort Hood. He said these crypts are double-decker concrete boxes, built to hold two bodies.

"We are working hard and hope that we will finish sooner than the deadline ... at least that's our game plan," said Richardson, noting this is his company's fourth veterans' cemetery, having just completed one in Lawton, Okla., and before then in St. Louis, Mo., and in Little Rock, Ark.

Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the Texas General Land Commission, which is in charge of the project, said they were pleased with the progress on the cemetery.

"We had kind of a delayed start on it, but it's getting along real fine now," said Suydam, noting the roadways had been completed, the pad for the building cleared and various other projects completed on the site. "It looks like it will be done by the summer of 2005.

"Really, it's going to be a great thing when it's done," Suydam said. "It's the very first state veterans cemetery that we have ever done, and we really want to make it a showcase."

After the cemetery is completed, who's going to run it is still being discussed, said Hilary J. Shine, director of Public Information for the city of Killeen.

"The state and the city are in discussion about the management and operations of the veterans cemetery," Shine said. "We are both looking at the possibility of a partnership that would benefit us both and this community."

Texas voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution in November 2001, which allowed the creation of up to seven state veterans cemeteries.

Killeen officials and veterans lobbied for one of those cemeteries to be located nearby to make it easier for survivors to pay respect to their loved ones. When complete, the cemetery will have the capacity to accommodate the graves of 50,000 Texas veterans.

The authority to transfer the land was included in the $393 billion 2003 Defense Authorization Bill, and Fort Hood officially made the transfer of land Feb. 19, 2003.

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, said the new cemetery is a reminder of honor and sacrifice. Edwards joined Texas General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and other officials in a ground-breaking ceremony for the Killeen project on Veterans Day 2003, when the construction began, Suydam said.

The cemetery will be completed in three phases. Phase I of the construction will cost about $8.5 million and will have adequate capacity for burials for 10 years. Phase II and III should cost less because most infrastructure costs will be covered by phase I, according to the Texas Veterans Land Board.

The Texas State Veterans cemeteries will complement four Veterans Affairs National cemeteries in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso.

There are no known plans for additional national cemeteries in Texas, and the land board reports that about 600,000 of Texas' 1.7 million veterans are 65 or older.

When completed, the Killeen-based Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery will serve about 115,000 veterans who are not now served by a national cemetery.

Contact Jimmie Ferguson at jferguson@kdhnews.com

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