Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville erected its first columbarium in October while Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor added two more.
Both cemeteries were addressing long-term concerns over having enough land to meet the demand for grave sites, while also providing for the increasing number of people choosing cremation over traditional burial. Urns containing ashes are sealed in each niche, and a granite face displays the engraved names, dates of birth and death, and other inscriptions.
“This is a first for Sunnyside,” said Roger Sherman, a Cemetery District 2 commissioner and member of a pioneering family. Sunnyside overlooks Ebey’s Prairie and contains the oldest settler graves on the island.
Sherman said the cemetery has enough unused space on the west side to last for many years, but eventually space will run out and it might be difficult to expand into the federally protected Reserve.
“Plus, it’s better to put people above ground than to bury them,” he said, describing the thinking of modern cemetery planners.
The twin Sunnyside columbaria are set in a small park, with the two sections containing 96 double-space niches, where couples can spend eternity together if they wish. Cost was roughly $17,000 for the units plus another $5,000 for the concrete walk.
“You can guess where they’re made,” Sherman chuckled, referring to China. The heavy granite columbaria were set on a circular concrete pad with decorative concrete benches.
The cost for a niche will be $1,000. “We have no idea,” Sherman said when asked how many sales are anticipated.
However, 60 percent of the burials at Sunnyside are now of cremated remains and Sherman sees the trend as sure to increase. “I’ll be cremated,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Maple Leaf the cemetery supervisor, Mike Dougliss, and Cemetery District Commissioner Dur Roberson watched as two columbaria were set in place atop thick concrete pads. Nearby was the first columbarium installed in 2003. The additions add 96 niches and cost the cemetery district at total of $15,000. The first columbarium contained 64 niches and it’s full except for the bottom row, Dougliss said.
Pacific Coast Memorial in Everett sold and brought in heavy equipment to install the columbaria for both cemeteries. Sunnyside chose a slightly more rustic look with rough edges, with a color suggestive of trees, while Maple Leaf went with shiny, smooth granite. Each Maple Unit unit weight 6,000 pounds and was carefully dropped into place by a crane on the bed of a truck.