JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Aug. 17, 2022) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is providing technical services and managing construction of the Mountain Home National Cemetery Expansion Project, which will add 6,365 burial and cremation plots, plus eight columbarium units with 3,140 niches for veteran internments.
In partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the USACE Nashville District is responsible for supervising the construction contract with the project’s contractor, Valiant Construction, which is based in Louisville, Kentucky.
Nathan Alford, engineer technician and construction representative in the Nashville District’s Eastern Tennessee Resident Office in Knoxville, Tennessee, said he is proud of his role overseeing the construction, which is placing crypts and preparing sections and grids for cremation plots that will expand the number of veterans that can be buried at the cemetery annex.
“Being a veteran myself and coming from a military family, I know I get to do something that helps veterans out. It’s still part of the Army mission and it’s the Corps being able to interact with the VA,” Alford said.
Alford retired as a sergeant first class in 2012 from the U.S. Army Reserves with 21 years of service as a combat engineer. However, he revealed that a greater source of pride for him in working on this project is that his dad is actually buried in the historic side of the cemetery.
Lt. Col. Terry M. Alford served as an instructor in the U.S. Army Reserves for 28 years in the 100th Training Division before retiring in the early 2000s. His internment at Mountain Home National Cemetery took place in June 2017.
Alford said that he is very proud of his father’s service, and in the back of his mind his presence at the cemetery also drives him to personally do his very best job on the expansion project to honor him and all veterans.
“Being able to work with another government agency to provide this for the public and veterans, it’s a really big thing,” Alford stressed.
Construction of the expansion project began in February 2022. However, excavation of dirt has been slowed with 29 days of weather delays. The area experienced almost nine inches of rain in July alone, which has resulted in a number of work stoppages.
The contractor also encountered evidence of sinkholes during construction that the pre-design boring did not discover. The Corps of Engineers is collaborating with the National Cemetery Association, VA officials, and contractor to locate areas of concern and to develop a boring and grouting remediation. The sinkhole issue is expected to add some cost and schedule impacts.
“We’ve had a very wet summer, which is not very common,” Alford explained. “And we’ve run into some issues with grades and fallouts on the site, so we’re in the process of remedying that so we can continue to make progress.”
Sue Nan Jehlen, Mountain Home National Cemetery director, said the staff at the VA values the partnership with the Corps of Engineers because of great communication and technical input that is provided, especially when addressing issues with the expansion that arise like the site’s stabilization issues related to the area’s karst geology.
Jehlen said the VA looks at possible expansion requirements about every decade and monitors depletion rates every month. Based on these reviews the cemetery moved forward this year with its expansion plan.
“This project has already opened up one section with over 800 cremation sites,” Jehlen said. “We are already starting to use that and will expand and add more crypt fields and columbarium walls, which we have never had at Mountain Home National Cemetery.”
Jehlen explained that the columbarium units will provide veterans and their families with an additional option to place cremation urns into these units.
The current cemetery has about 17,000 plots and encompasses 41 developed acres out of 99.7 acres available for burials. This expansion project is adding eight more acres with 3,187 pre-placed crypts and 3,178 in-ground cremains, plus eight columbarium units that will provide 3,140 niches for urns.
Pre-placed crypt gravesites come with a three-foot by eight-foot by seven-foot concrete box that holds two caskets. Each columbarium unit is approximately 45-feet long by 6-feet wide and 6.6-feet tall. A columbarium concrete unit used in the footer and stem wall weighs around 400,000 pounds. When accounting for structural steel in the footer or the pre-cast concrete niche units, masonry block, brick or cut natural stone veneers that sit on top of the footers, the total weight of each unit is well over 700,000 pounds.
The cemetery expects to fill all available plots in the developed portion of the cemetery by sometime around 2024, so space is running out and the expansion project is necessary, she said.
This expansion project is being supported by the Corps of Engineers’ Interagency and International Services (IIS) Program, which provides technical assistance to non-Department of Defense federal agencies, state and local governments, tribal nations, private U.S. firms, international organizations, and foreign governments.
Greg Bishop, senior IIS project manager and acting IIS Program manager at Nashville District Headquarters, said this is the second project between the NCA and the Nashville District.
“We completed the design and construction of the new Visitor Center in the historical section,” Bishop said. “I think that was a great success from both the design that blended with the surrounding buildings on the VA campus and construction the Corps of Engineers completed as scheduled.”
Bishop said the current expansion project’s design has achieved the desired results to maximize space, and short of the sinkhole issue, construction has been going mostly as planned.
“I foresee a strong relationship with the NCA where our expertise helps compliment their needs for future projects,” Bishop said.
The Nashville District’s support helps the VA meet program challenges while avoiding duplication of federal capabilities and agency start-up and closeout activities. The Corps of Engineers functions largely as a contract manager using the talents of the private sector to accomplish actual tasks.
The NCA is funding the $8,778,857 construction contract for the expansion. Reimbursable support from the Corps of Engineers is arranged through the execution of a written Project Partnership Agreement.
For more information about the US Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.