Old fire station to aid cemetery detail
By: Eric Johnson
A new use for an old fire station could mean better upkeep at Augusta’s two inner-city cemeteries.
Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan would like to take the May Park Fire Station, an unused station that once housed the Augusta Youth Center, and turn it into a Recreation Department substation to house the vehicles and heavy equipment used at Magnolia Cemetery and Cedar Grove Cemetery. He believes the station would provide better oversight for cemetery operations by relocating the supervisor from the Common closer to the cemeteries.
“Probably what we’ll do is get to the beginning of January and then we’ll redo that building,” Shanahan said. “We’ll be able to store all the equipment we’ve never had any place to store in the past.”
Currently, the equipment is kept in the open at Magnolia Cemetery.
“Face it,” Shanahan said. “It’s an eyesore.”
Not only is it an eyesore, but it’s not safe. The department has experienced both theft and vandalism from leaving equipment out and accessible to the public.
The converted fire station would also provide storage for downtown landscape and maintenance crews as well as potential meeting space. Additionally, the station could house the tents and equipment used by the city’s special events team for activities held at the Common, Riverwalk and Marina.
Special events materials are now stored in South Augusta, and moving that equipment into the fire station would provide savings in both fuel and time.
Shanahan estimates the cost of retrofitting the station would be about $15,000, and though the cost is significant, the savings would be considerable, both in terms of equipment and supervision.
Some claim the cemeteries, particularly the historically black Cedar Grove Cemetery, have suffered neglect.
A couple of weeks ago, Mattie Mitchell was shocked to find large dirt piles in Cedar Grove when she went to the cemetery to visit her grandparents’ graves.
“They were five feet tall and 15 feet wide,” Mitchell said. “And they were covering graves.”
Mitchell said that a descendant of W.S. Hornsby, the cofounder of the Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company, approached her about the dirt piles, as did others, including the elderly son of one of the managers of the historic Lenox Theater, an African-American theater that was torn down in 1978. Both were concerned about the condition of the cemetery.
“When these people purchased these gravesites, they purchased perpetual care,” she said. “So when I came and saw the dirt piles, I’m like, ‘That’s not perpetual care.’”
Mitchell estimated that at least five graves were covered with dirt, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Some graves were uncovered to the point where the caskets were visible through the holes in the ground.
Mitchell contacted Shanahan.
“Cemeteries are a whole new field for the Recreation Department,” Shanahan said. “They’ve never done it before, so it’s been a little bit of a learning curve.”
The reorganization of county government split up the Public Works department. Part of it went to Engineering, some of it went to Environmental Services and some of it, including the cemetery detail, went to the Recreation Department.
Shanahan confirmed that he’s in the process of hiring a new supervisor for the cemeteries, which use county labor as well as inmates for some of the mowing and raking.
According to Mitchell, the clean up process, which took about a week and a half, began immediately, and while there are still some examples of slightly uncovered graves, she feels comfortable that the cemetery is now getting the attention it needs.
“It looks like a final resting place again,” she said. “They did a good job, and we’re very pleased at how it looks.” You Might Also Like: