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Howorth and team planning, designing State Veterans Cemetery in Newton

Last September, the State of Mississippi chose the firm it wants to plan and design the proposed State Veterans Cemetery in Newton. The Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration notified Oxford-based Howorth & Associates Architects that it would provide professional services for the cemetery.

Howorth has subsequently brought in Canton-based Williford, Gearhart & Knight Inc., Engineers and Surveyors, and Lewis•Scully•Gionet Inc. Landscape Architects of Vienna, Va., to assist in the project. Work is still preliminary, but all of the firms are anxious to get started and excited about the work.

“Every successful project is a good one, but obviously this is a prestigious project,” says Tom Howorth, founder of Howorth & Associates.

Big job

The planning and designing of the new State Veterans Cemetery, which is expected to cost $7.7 million, will be no small undertaking. The project will include master planning of an approximately 76-acre site and planning through construction of the initial buildings and infrastructure.

The project will encompass entrance elements, avenue of flags, assembly area, burial areas, committal service shelter, memorial walk, administration building, maintenance building and related roadways, landscaping, parking areas and infrastructure.

The site is located approximately half way between Newton and Hickory on land donated to the State Veteran’s Board by Mississippi State University. The property faces Interstate 10 and will be entered from U.S. 80.

Howorth explains that the federal government no longer plans, designs and constructs veterans cemeteries. Instead, it awards grants to states to perform these duties.

During the selection process, the state strongly suggested that Howorth & Associates pull in firms to offer turnkey services. With that, Howorth went recruiting.

Lewis•Scully•Gionet has an extensive portfolio of veterans cemetery projects throughout the United States, including design of expansions at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Fla., and Mound City National Cemetery in Mound City, Ill. This marks the firm’s first project in Mississippi.

Mark Gionet, ASLA, AICP, principal at Lewis•Scully•Gionet, says, “Tom gave me a call, and we chatted on the phone. We were fortunate enough to be selected.”

Williford Gearhart & Knight, Inc. is a civil engineering and surveying firm with a track record in surveying, drainage and roadway design. It is accustomed to working with complex interrelated agencies with overlapping needs and requirements.

Howorth says he chose Lewis•Scully•Gionet due to its past work and expertise in veterans cemeteries. He says he selected Williford, Gearhart & Knight due to its knowledge and skill as well as its closer proximity to the proposed site, giving Howorth & Associates “eyes and ears.”

Dignity and durability

There were other reasons for Howorth to pull in extra resources. The new cemetery will be for state veterans and their dependents. Thus, the cemetery’s design must reflect the proper dignity due the decease military personnel and their loved ones.

“No one knows how to conduct a dignified funeral better than the military,” Howorth says.

Veterans cemeteries also require unique design and layout features. Services are not conducted at the cemetery. Rather, they are conducted at facilities sometimes well away from the cemetery, sometimes well before actual interment.

The cemeteries offer committal service shelters, places for friends and families gather to remember the deceased. These shelters are more permanent than tents used at non-military funerals, but are still open-air structures. Here, what could be termed “graveside” services are held, though the shelters may not be close to the burial site and no internment is conducted with the family and friends present. Thus, veterans cemeteries must offer unique infrastructure and facilities not found at other cemeteries.

Durability is also an issue. Howorth says veterans cemeteries incorporate pre-placed burial crypts. This forgoes the removal of soil, which alters the landscaping, and over time can entirely change the cemetery’s look.

Mississippi is home to veterans cemeteries in Biloxi, Natchez and Corinth, but Howorth and his team are going out of state for ideas. At press time, he and representatives from Howorth & Associates, Williford, Gearhart & Knight, Lewis•Scully•Gionet as well as state officials were preparing for visits to cemeteries in Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Georgia to see what worked there, and what did not.

Howorth estimates that his firm will have six or more of its staff working on the cemetery project. He says the project will begin with the master-planning process, which could take the rest of this year. Implementation of phase one of the plan should begin in early 2008, and he anticipates the project wrapping up around this time next year.

Portfolio additions

This marks the first cemetery design project executed by Howorth & Associates, which has an interesting history. In 1986, Howorth moved from New Orleans to Jackson to form the partnership of Mockbee•Coker•Howorth Architects, a firm that won immediate critical recognition,

In 1990, Howorth left that partnership to form Howorth & Associates, providing architectural and interior design services for a wide variety of clients-governmental, corporate, not-for-profit and private individuals.

In 1995, the five-person firm relocated from Jackson to the historic courthouse square in Oxford. Growth has followed the firm, which today has a staff of 16 that includes five regular architects, one landscape architect, two interior designers and six architect interns. In 2005, the growth led the firm to give up its offices on the square for larger studios several blocks away.

Howorth attributed this growth to the firm’s ethos of building for the future and the economic activity of recent years in and around Oxford.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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