MAKING MORE ROOM: As Park Cemetery nears capacity, officials eye expansion and other changes

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GREENFIELD — The city is making plans for a possible expansion to Park Cemetery that could incorporate space for more non-traditional methods of laying remains to rest.

In its budget for the upcoming year, the city allocated up to $50,000 to hire a consultant specializing in cemetery design to help plan for the future.

Greenfield street superintendent Tyler Rankins, who oversees the cemetery, said the city is responding to a need for more space as well as to an increasing number of people who aren’t opting for a traditional burial.

A columbarium at Gravel Lawn Cemetery in Fortville offers families a less expensive alternative for a final resting place. Greenfield officials plan to consider adding such a feature if they decide to expand Park Cemetery. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
A columbarium at Gravel Lawn Cemetery in Fortville offers families a less expensive alternative for a final resting place. Greenfield officials plan to consider adding such a feature if they decide to expand Park Cemetery. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

“We need to hire a specialist to tell us about the best practices,” he said.

Rankins said city leaders hope to hire someone who can educate them about alternative forms of burial and grave markers, like columbariums, structures that are used for public storage of cremation ashes. Another possibility would be incorporating a garden on the property where ashes could be scattered.

Rankins said the city will strive to keep alternative burial options at the cemetery affordable for citizens while making sure they are not a burden on taxpayers.

About 1,200 plots are still available in the cemetery, Rankins said. That may sound like a lot, he added, but most are single plots, and many residents want to purchase a family plot where two or more people can be buried in adjacent graves.

An expansion would be located on 16 acres to the south of the cemetery that is already owned by the city. With that space, Rankins said, Park Cemetery could accommodate traditional burials for about 50 more years. If more non-traditional methods are used, the space could be sufficient for up to a century.

Demand for cremation and non-traditional burial has increased in recent years in Hancock County, said David Stillinger, owner of Stillinger Family Funeral Home.

“We’ve been doing cremation burials (at Park Cemetery) for years,” Stillinger said. “…Cremation burial is ever-growing in our area.”

There are several reasons why people might opt for cremation over traditional burial, Stillinger said, adding that the popularity has spread from the west and east coasts. Some may be thinking of cost, while others might not want a viewing of their body or a formal ceremony after death. Growing popularity of cremation could also reflect a trend for people to move more often and feel less attached to a specific geographic area, he said.

Stillinger said he would welcome increased options for cremation burial in Greenfield.

Gravel Lawn Cemetery in Fortville, a private, nonprofit cemetery, already has two columbariums. Each holds 72 niches for an individual’s ashes, in rows of six. Business manager Linda Sue Rhoades said one columbarium, installed in 2012, is mostly full; the second was installed this spring and has already sold several niches.

“They’re pretty popular,” Rhoades said.

Gravel Lawn has also added an ossuary, a single site where cremated remains of many individuals can be buried. Rhoades said it is “an inexpensive way to lay someone to rest.”

Columbariums, too, are less expensive than traditional burial. At Gravel Lawn, a traditional grave plot costs $1,100, and burial costs an additional $770. Grave markers are an additional variable cost. The Gravel Lawn columbarium niches cost an all-inclusive $1,540, which includes an engraving on the front of the niche.

“The niches are a less expensive way to have a very dignified resting place,” Rhoades said.

Spending on a study of the cemetery expansion was one area that was identified as a concern about the city’s spending in a petition that was submitted to the city by resident Larry Silver and signed by 14 other residents. The petition will be included with the city’s budget in its submission to the state Department of Local Government Finance for review.

Silver, who plans to run for mayor of Greenfield as a libertarian in 2023, said the city should be able to make its own decisions about the use of the land at Park Cemetery without hiring a consultant.

Park Cemetery was established as Greenfield’s municipal burying ground in the 1860s and is the resting place of many notable Greenfield citizens, including local artist Will Vawter, Civil War Gen. Oliver Gooding and the parents of poet James Whitcomb Riley.

Local historian Brigitte Cook Jones said the city established the cemetery when its first burial space, South Street Cemetery, was beginning to fill up.

“When the Civil War broke out, we had a lot of soldiers coming back, and that’s when Park Cemetery was established,” Jones said.

In April, the Greenfield City Council voted to approve a price increase for burial at Park Cemetery. The city increased prices for a standard single grave from $625 to $800, and for an infant grave from $175 to $225. The ordinance also set the cost for burial at $800 for a traditional burial; $300 for a cremation burial; and $225 for an infant or a burial paid for by Medicaid.

Additionally, the cemetery charges $1,600 for disinterment of a standard grave; $700 for cremation graves; and $450 for an infant grave.