While most developers are happy to see their properties withstand 50years, Les Lowther is building for eternity.
The general manager of Meadowridge Cemetery is directing the construction of a 500-crypt mausoleum costing nearly $1 million, which represents one of the biggest additions to the 150-acre park since it was dedicated in 1935 at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Meadowridge Road.
"It'll be different from almost anything in the Howard County area," Lowther said, explaining that the granite structure was designed exclusively for the park and will include an interior chapel lined with Italian marble.
Although Lowther says those features make it unique, it will not be the only one in the area. The Columbia Memorial Park, which opened on Route 108 near Clarksville in 1989, is planningto start construction of a 500-crypt mausoleum, which will not contain a chapel, in 2 1/2 years.
Meadowridge, which serves a 20-mile-radius, now has a small, 100-crypt mausoleum with no chapel.
Houston-based Service Corp. International bought the park in 1985, making it part of a $563 million-a-year corporation that operates 148 cemeteries and about 600 funeral homes in the United States and Canada.
Another milestone in the park's history is the expected completion this week of 500 "lawn crypts," which consists of burial vaults on a bedof gravel with a drainage and ventilation system to prevent accumulation of moisture or settling that occurs with traditional undergroundburial. The park has about 1,000 such crypts.
The park also has plans for its own mortuary, or funeral home, to be built in about fiveyears.
The only other large memorial park in the county, Crestlawn, owned by New Orleans-based Stewart Enterprises, has a mausoleum complex with 1,122 crypts. All but 175 have been sold. Already 50-percent sold, Meadowridge's new mausoleum will take six to eight months tocomplete. The building will measure 200 by 50 feet, its exterior crypts covered by granite quarried in Genoa, Italy, and its crypts inside the chapel fronted by slabs of white marble from Carrara, Italy, where Michelangelo's sculpting marble was quarried.
"The ones on theinside are very exclusive," said Lowther, explaining that crypts inside and outside will cost between $2,000 and $12,000, depending on level and location. Standard burial plots start at $500. Lowther expects to increase crypt prices 15 percent to 40 percent after construction is finished, Lowther said.
The mausoleum was intended to be partof a five-building complex that would have contained 3,000 crypts, but county planners prohibited the park from building the additional structures to preserve wetlands in the area.
The park is a haven for waterfowl, with hundreds of Canada geese last week sharing its stone-dammed ponds and neatly trimmed lawns with ducks and swans.
The mausoleum will stand in a grove of trees in the middle of the sprawling park with four miles of roads.
Although it cannot expand at thesame location, Lowther said, the park plans to start building mausoleums on other sites in the park in several years.
About 25,000 people are interred on about 90 acres at Meadowridge, and Lowther estimates that the remaining 60 acres will take about 150 years to sell.
Prices in the new building will vary according to location with spaces on the inside more expensive than those on the outside. Which of the seven levels a crypt occupies also will determine price. How easily a mourner can touch the face plate of a crypt is the key factor in determining price.
Premium prices are paid for crypts on the second ("Heart Level"), and the most affordable crypts will be found on the seventh ("Heaven Level").
In addition, the cemetery charges a $195 fee to open and close the crypt.
The building's chapel will be available for any funeral service at the park.
"It's much easier to explain leaving grandpa in this nice build
ing -- and I've seen this time, and time again, people trying to explain this to small children -- than to explain leaving grandpa under a tent in the rain," Lowther says.
The Meadowridge Memorial Park land has a rich history, dating back to the 1695 "Troy" land grant to John Dorsey. Since then, it has been a farm and a tobacco plantation, in later years known as Hollywood Farm until it was dedicated as a cemetery.