JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Veterans Commission will soon begin the search for a director to run a state veterans' cemetery planned for Bloomfield.
Ron Taylor, the commission's superintendent of services and cemeteries, said the commission learned from the construction of its first two state cemeteries at Springfield and Higginsville, which is east of Kansas City, the importance of having directors hired early in the construction process. The first directors at those facilities, which were completed in late 1999, weren't hired until the cemeteries were only a few months from completion.
"I think this will allow the person more time to spend in the Bloomfield area to do outreach in the community and with veterans' groups," Taylor said.
He said construction bids for the long-delayed project will be solicited within the next 30 days. Weather permitting, Taylor said, construction could begin in January with the cemetery being open for burials in March or April 2003.
The Bloomfield site and another at Jacksonville in northeast Missouri that is on the same timetable will be the state's third and fourth veterans' cemeteries under 1996 legislation creating a state system. The two newest facilities are expected to cost between $5.5 million and $6 million each. Federal money will pay the full cost of the projects.
A director for the Jacksonville site will also be sought.
Taylor said ideal candidates for the jobs would have experience with cemetery operations or a background in veterans' services.
The Bloomfield cemetery will be located just south of the center of town and adjacent to the Stars and Stripes Museum and Library on a 65-acre site off of Highway 25.
The president of the museum's board of directors, Jim Mayo of Bloomfield, said those involved with the museum are excited that construction, once slated to be finished in 1999, finally appears on the verge of beginning. Mayo said the number of visitors to the museum is expected to significantly increase once the cemetery opens.
"It will be a great thing for the whole area and particularly Bloomfield," Mayo said.
Though not officially affiliated, the museum and the cemetery already have a close relationship. Mayo said people informally refer to the cemetery as the "Stars and Stripes cemetery" and frequently inquire with the museum about the status of the project.
"We get a lot of calls from World War II veterans wondering what is wrong and why they haven't started work," Mayo said. "Hopefully, this will satisfy folks."
Until the cemetery opens, the museum is caring for the remains of what could become the first veteran interred there. Mayo said a recently deceased, Missouri-born former Stars and Stripes newspaper reporter who served during the Korean War instructed that his ashes be left with the museum for burial once the cemetery is completed.
Taylor said final design approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is all that remains before the project can be bid.
"We hope it will be a fairly quick turnaround time from the VA on our plans and nothing unexpected jumps up and bites us," Taylor said.
Past project delays stemmed from 1998 federal legislation that authorized the VA to pay the full cost of state veterans' cemeteries instead of 50 percent as was previously the case. The change prompted more states to pursue cemetery systems and the increased demand slowed the approval process for states like Missouri, where plans were further along, Taylor said.