The city’s plans for updating Gracelawn Cemetery are still to be finalized, but one concept includes a redesigned main entrance.

The city is preparing to expand Gracelawn Cemetery north onto seven acres of a 21-acre lot the city purchased in 2014. Gracelawn, on the northwest corner of Boulevard and Danforth Road, has been city-owned and -operated since 1895.

Andy Conyers, city director of management services, said 45-50% of people are now choosing to be cremated, and the cemetery is not equipped to handle those numbers. He spoke during a City Council workshop on July 8 updating council members on Parks & Recreation Department projects.

The expansion will include 1,500 in-ground burial spots, 1,200 columbarium niches for cremated remains and a committal shelter, which is an enclosed area intended to provide temporary shelter from the wind, rain and sun for an interment service instead of, or along with, a graveside service. 

The expansion will meet Gracelawn’s needs for the next 25 years, Conyers said.

Design should be finished within a month with bidding to follow and about 12-15 months of construction, he said.

Councilman Darrell Davis asked whether plans include seating or relaxation areas.

“Even though it is a cemetery, it’s a park,” Davis said. “Besides visiting my loved ones there, I go there for the tranquil peace and quiet.”

Conyers said planners wanted to keep some areas as passive as possible, and there will be seating areas near the committal shelter and the columbarium.

“What often happens at funerals is they turn into family reunions,” he said. “We wanted to have a really nice, peaceful place where people can catch up and remember loved ones.

“One of the primary things in the vision for this area was to create something that was more parklike. I think the product that we’re getting does that, to try to soften it as much as possible.”

The parks department receives .125% of the city’s 3.75% sales tax, and took in $2.269 million last year, said Warren Porter, the city’s director of financial services.

Porter told the council that personnel services as a percentage of parks-dedicated sales tax collected has been consistent in recent years, moving from 16% in 2000-01 to 16.7% in 2018.