Three new buildings being constructed at the Eagle Point National Cemetery will consolidate administration, public services and maintenance personnel and equipment in one area by October, officials there said.
"Its purpose is to provide the guests and visitors that we serve with a more updated experience when they visit the cemetery," said Director Ted Travers. "It is definitely going to be more satisfying to visit once things are finished. ... It needed an update."
Crews with Eagle Point-based contractor Kevcon Inc. have been working on the $3 million project since April 2012, said Gregg Hangaard, the cemetery's foreman.
"I have been here since 1996 and heard about new buildings for the cemetery the entire time. It's going to look better big time," Hangaard said.
The current administration and visitor building located at the center of the cemetery will eventually be demolished and turned into above-ground burial space for cinerary urns, said Travers, who became the cemetery's director this month.
Before that, Travers was director at Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Neb.
Travers said the new public and administration building will provide 24-hour restrooms for visitors, a public space for gatherings, and an information kiosk.
It and a new maintenance shop are framed and roofed and crews are concentrating on the interior of the buildings, Hangaard said, but the equipment storage building isn't far behind.
Crews also are working to raise and realign most of the headstones in the cemetery, where about 17,000 veterans and their loved ones are buried, and replacing the lawn with new turf, Hangaard said.
He said it's been more than 15 years since the cemetery's lawn was redone.
"We hope to have most of the lawn completed by Memorial Day; that way those that come out get the full effect of what's been accomplished," Travers said.
The cemetery, administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration, covers about 47 acres on the east side of Riley Road.
"We do apologize for the way it looks right at the moment for our visitors, but the outcome is going to be well worth it," Hangaard said.
Hangaard said he hopes the cemetery can be considered for "national shrine status" by the VA once the project is finished.
"We should be at national shrine standards once we're done," he said. "Currently, we are not ... either you are or you aren't, and you strive to be."
According to its website, the VA awards national shrine status only to its national cemeteries that meet the highest of standards. The National Cemetery Administration maintains 131 cemeteries in 39 states for the VA, according to its website.
Travers said he is excited about the improvements being made to Eagle Point National Cemetery because "the people here deserve it."
"I am glad to be here and looking forward to serving the veterans out here in Southern Oregon," he said.
About 23,278 veterans live in Jackson County, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at email@example.com.