In this poignant episode, join us as architect Matthew Bennett shares his profound experience in designing the Nebraska Veterans Cemetery in Grand Island. Matthew delves into the challenges, considerations, and the honor he felt in creating a space that pays tribute to those who served our nation. A conversation that explores the intersection of architecture, respect, and gratitude.

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Episode Transcript

Skyler: All right. Welcome back everybody to another episode of Laying the Foundation podcast. My name is Skylar and I am your host. And today I'm here with Matt Bennett and Matt is going to be giving me kind of a rundown of the project he worked on involving the Nebraska Veterans Cemetery. Matt, welcome to the show.

Matthew: Thank you, Skylar.

Skyler: Yeah, it's great to have you on. Um, we've, we've sat down once before, I think so far and chatted a little bit for the podcast. Um, I don't know if that, I don't think that episode has come out yet. I, um, just talking about you and your background and everything as far as how you got to be an architect.

Skyler: But today we're going to focus on a specific project and that is the Nebraska veteran cemetery. So tell me, first of all, just kind of a little bit about, um, you know, your background with the project and how it is that you got involved with it.

Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first, just a little background about the cemetery itself.

Matthew: Yeah. The, it all started with the, uh, establishment of the Nebraska, the central Nebraska veterans home in the city of Grand Island. And that happened way back in 1888 when these. State was just a, a few years old and there was the need to, um, provide a place for some of the, uh, returning civil war soldiers who maybe had been wounded in battle and, um, were having problems, um, adjusting, um, to have a place to live and that they could.

Matthew: Uh, work and, uh, be able to make a life for themselves. So in 1888, uh, the state established the veteran's home here in town. And, um, unfortunately as part of that, uh, there was the need for a cemetery. Um, At the home as well for, uh, residents as they did pass away. Um, fast forward a few years from that and the veterans home ultimately closed in Grand Island, but the cemetery still remains.

Matthew: And it's, uh, very much hallowed ground and our city and in the county and something that the city and county are very proud to have here and. as the final resting place of people who have given so much to our country. So when the opportunity came up, the State Department of Veterans Affairs suggested that the cemetery be expanded to become a state cemetery and no longer just a city.

Matthew: and county, um, location. And the veterans groups within town, uh, jumped on that opportunity and came up with the first master plan on how to expand the cemetery. The State Department of Veterans Affairs put in for a grant from the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And that grant was ultimately accepted, uh, this past year.

Matthew: And, uh, Allowing for the establishment of what would become the, uh, Nebraska Veterans Cemetery at Grand Island. It was at the point that the Nebraska Department received the grant that they were looking for an architect to be able to make this project a reality. And CMBA, working with our friends MKEC Engineering out of Wichita.

Matthew: Uh, put together a proposal and were ultimately accepted, uh, very quickly by the state in order to, to really make this project happen. And the rest, uh, is history from that point.

Skyler: That's right. And there's a lot of history that's involved in this project, speaking of which, but that's pretty awesome. That's awesome.

Skyler: So, uh, Give me a rundown of the timeline of the prod, the project itself, the progression, um, you said that they had kind of come up with an initial master plan. How did that kind of evolve, uh, leading up to


Matthew: it is now? Yeah. So this is a really unique project in terms of its timeline. The original master plan was completed in 2019 and that was what was submitted for the grant funding.

Matthew: And that grant, as I said, was awarded, uh, this past year and May of 2023. And obviously a lot happened in the interim there, um, which made it necessary to make some changes to the original master plan. But one of the conditions to receive the grant funding is that the project had to have. been bid by the end of these, uh, federal government's fiscal year, which was September 30th, 2023.

Matthew: So basically we had from May 15th until August 15th to complete. to the master plan and then take the project all the way through construction documents and getting it ready to bid. And we finally got approval and put out the bid documents on August 15th of this year. So, yeah. That's

Skyler: incredible. Matt, tell me, how is it possible to get all of that done in like three months?

Skyler: Is that three months? Yeah, basically

Matthew: three months. Yeah. We just had a really great team. Uh, we had a really great team here at. CMBA with our architects, our interior designers, uh, a couple of summer interns that we are very glad to have on the, on the team, as well as our engineering, uh, friends, our MKC out of Wichita, who did the civil engineering as well as the landscape design, uh, ETI.

Matthew: engineering out of Lincoln who did the mechanical and electrical work and ROU career engineering out of Lincoln who did the structural work. We just worked together as a, a really great team met weekly and just each week we needed to really show progress and the overall design and we were able to pull it off and took everyone's hard work.

Matthew: But we made it happen. Yeah,

Skyler: absolutely. So out of curiosity, cause you mentioned obviously working with some of the, like, um, the, the government organizations and things along those lines, usually a lot of what we do, we typically design for, you know, a specific client, but how, how different is the experience when you're designing for a more like a governmentally uh, controlled organization?

Skyler: Like, is there, is there a lot of

Matthew: differences there? There is, you know, every. Every client has, you know, their own differences and their own ways of doing things. And that's always something that, you know, we need to be respectful of and that we need to pay attention to. And in particular, when we start working with state clients and even federal clients, that there are a lot of, um, very important, uh, regulations that we need to follow.

Matthew: Rules that they have that we need to follow, you know, for instance, this project has, uh, by America requirements for almost all the materials that are involved. And so that meant that we had to spend extra time really interrogating all of our vendors and suppliers and making sure that, you know, they met those requirements, um, sustainability requirements and so forth.

Matthew: And, you know, with a project like this, uh, a project that has. You know, this exposure and that is this important. It's also realizing that, you know, yes, we're doing this project for the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs and they're our client and it's very important that we meet, you know, their, uh, expectations, but there's also just the, the bigger picture and the bigger expectations that, you know, this is a project that.

Matthew: That is going to be really a focal point for the city of Grand Island and for Hall County. And it's also very important that we create a respectful and dignified, uh, place of final rest for, for those who will be, uh, laid to rest here. And that was something that was on all of our minds as we progressed through the

Skyler: project.

Skyler: It's, it's hugely impactful to the, uh, to the community, not even just Grand Island, but like the whole. State of Nebraska and even just kind of the whole, um, honestly the whole U. S. and those that have served this country. So that's definitely got a lot of, um, massive community impact to it for sure. So attention

Matthew: architecture professionals.

Matthew: Are you looking for an employment opportunity that will provide you with a wonderful work culture and a competitive pay rate? Look no further than CMBA Architects. Our firm offers flexible scheduling. A casual dress code and a great work environment that will help you collaborate and create. Plus, who doesn't love having Fridays off?

Skyler: To learn more about our available positions, visit the careers page at CMBAarchitects. com and apply to join the CMBA team. Um, what about the fact that this, so obviously cemeteries isn't, you know, one of the, the three primary areas that we typically at CMBA kind of handle, not to say that we don't jump outside of that.

Skyler: Obviously we do. Um, but what sort of challenges kind of came with the fact that, you know, this isn't in our normal scope of things.

Matthew: Yes. You know, I, I have to admit. I've worked on a number of different project types throughout my career, and this was definitely the first cemetery I worked on. But we did bring in experts, uh, particularly our, um, partners at MKEC.

Matthew: They've done a number of cemeteries, particularly with the, uh, Department of Veterans Affairs, both on the state and the federal level, and they brought in a lot of expertise, and through a lot of conversations with them, we were Um, they helped us through a lot of the very specific details that go into, uh, the planning and design and construction of a cemetery.

Matthew: And so, you know, this is one of those projects that, you know, we knew that we needed to bring in additional expertise beyond, you know, what we bring to the table. And we had a great group of people to work with who were able to provide

Skyler: that. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, kind of what goes into. This project or the project of designing a cemetery.

Skyler: Cause some people might think, well, you know, it's just the ground space and you, you put people in it, you know, when they, when they pass away, but there is a lot more to it, what all like kind of was encompassed in this

Matthew: project. Yeah, there's actually a lot. That goes into it and more now that I didn't even realize at the time that we started the project, certainly there's the layout of the cemetery itself, which that there's a lot of very specific engineering that goes into that, just knowing it.

Matthew: Um, how the burials are, are going to be, uh, done, um, and making sure that those are properly engineered, that the soil is, is properly, uh, maintained and properly prepared so that, you know, they will have, uh, be able to rest for eternity, uh, basically. There is a landscape component that is very important on a project like this and making sure that the grounds are going to be something that Everyone can be proud of something that is going to provide dignity for the, um, cemetery itself.

Matthew: There's a lot of utility work that goes into this, you know, need to plan irrigation for the site, need to plan power and so forth in a way that doesn't interfere with. The actual burial grounds themselves. And then in terms of the architecture, there's five separate structures that needed to be designed, uh, for this, an administration building, a utility building, a storage building, as well as, uh, Shelter, uh, basically an outdoor chapel for the actual committal services to take part in.

Matthew: In addition, there is, you know, gates and different, um, focal point walls and so forth that needed to be, uh, created and designed. And then a whole piece of engineering in terms of roads for the site. So there's really a lot of different design components that went into this, that we all had to work together to make, you know, sing in the end.

Matthew: Yeah,

Skyler: absolutely. Different. Wow. From roads to, like you said, the landscaping, even the soil and everything like that. That's it. That's a lot too. And it definitely not something that one person could necessarily do just on their own, as you mentioned before.

Matthew: No, absolutely. It took the expertise of everyone on the team in order to make it happen.

Skyler: That's awesome. So when it comes down to, you know, those influences, obviously you've mentioned, you know, some of our partners, we had the interns, obviously other members of our team here at CBA. What about the community? Did the community kind of have some, some input or some involvement that was a part of the, I would assume probably part of this project.

Skyler: And then how did that kind of affect how things progressed?

Matthew: Yeah, the community has been a huge part of this project since it started. You know, as I had mentioned back in 2019, when the planning really even began before we were a part of this, it was the community who really put the momentum together to make this happen.

Matthew: Our community has raised. At this point, I believe over 750, 000 in order to contribute to, um, the project and make this a reality. And in the process, you know, we had presentations specifically with members of the Hall County, um, commission, public meetings with the Hall County commission, as well as with folks at city hall.

Matthew: In order to make sure that we had everyone's buy in, um, before, you know, we did anything and went to bid on this, uh, it was really important that, you know, we have community support, um, especially because, you know, they've done so much to, to raise support and money for the

Skyler: project. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Skyler: And it takes, you know, it takes those people, it takes that community in order to, to get the project done for sure. So, and that input is obviously invaluable as well, you know, obviously we're looking for. You know, a client or, you know, however you want to term it necessarily. And that's what they are, is they're the people that they're there.

Skyler: They want to see this and they want to see it at its best. So obviously they have, um, they have some things to probably say, suggest or what they'd like to see. So awesome. So, uh, was there any particular design elements that you felt particularly. excited or strongly or, um, maybe it was like, Oh man, at the time, it was like a big headache to, to get this together, but it came together.

Skyler: And that was really awesome to, to finally see it in place.

Matthew: Especially given the fact that we had such a tight timeline and such. Quick, um, three months to put this together. You know, you would think that we really didn't have time to design, you know, anything of, uh, of note on this. But one of the things that was really important to us and the design team at CMBA was what we call the committal shelter.

Matthew: At the, uh, cemetery. And this is a permanent shelter on the site, which is where, when there are committals, uh, at the cemetery, where the casket would be laid and where, uh, the actual committal service would take place. And it was really important to us that this be something more than just. You know, look like some outdoor picnic shelter.

Matthew: It really needed to be a place that, um, provided dignity to, um, those who are being laid to rest and those who are, you know, at the cemetery, um, you know, grieving or trying to, um, to say goodbye to their loved one. And so we did a lot of quick design work, um, in house here to really come up with a design that.

Matthew: Would give some special meaning to that space and really make it a focal point for the site.

Skyler: Absolutely. And I got to see a little bit of the behind the scenes as this was kind of going on, which was, which was exciting for me. Um, and I know that there were some of our, as you mentioned before, interns that were involved in that, you know, coming up with some of those designs and some of the inspiration and ideas and stuff that came up with that.

Skyler: What. What was their involvement in the process? Cause I know we definitely have a lot of interns or perspective interns out there that they hear about firms and they think, you know, maybe I'm just going to be that, that person that goes and gets coffee or something like that. But they, I mean, they were, our interns were like really involved in this process and coming up with some of the ideas and designs.

Skyler: Yeah,

Matthew: they were instrumental in that one had happened and the story about the design of that shelter was that we were getting ready for a big meeting with the leadership of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, and we had great renderings and great images. The administration building and the utility building, and we had materials and we had everything ready to show them and really make a good, powerful presentation of the work that we were doing.

Matthew: But we all just sort of agreed that it just seemed like the design of the committal shelter space.

Matthew: It I challenge them one afternoon that if they could just take a couple of hours and just Put out the, the most incredible ideas, the most incredible designs they possibly could for just a couple of hours and just really redesign this so that it will really be something special for the cemetery and they did not disappoint and they came up with some incredible design work, um, for the shelter.

Matthew: And so when we had that meeting, we got, you know, the approval and the buy in on all the different pieces of the project. And then when it came time to the shelter, we showed them sort of the initial design work we had and everyone was like, Oh, okay. But everyone sort of agreed. It just didn't have that power that the space needed to have.

Matthew: And then we brought out some of the designs that they had worked on and that really sold the design. They did some incredible design work, um, to make this reality. And then we were able to take the design work that they did. And between our team of, um, licensed architects and the interns themselves, we made it.

Matthew: Into actual construction documents and, uh, put it out to bed and that's what we'll be built. That's

Skyler: so awesome. That's so awesome. So they got to be like big part of, of this whole process and their ideas and their designs are part of what are going to go into the, the completion of this. So that's, that's super exciting.

Matthew: That's awesome. Yeah. When they graduate college, they'll be able to point to, they will already have a. That has been built that they will have contributed significantly

Skyler: to. That's awesome. That's awesome. I mean, not to do kind of a shameless plug there for our internship program, but that's, that's pretty phenomenal for sure.

Skyler: So awesome. And then, so everything's been sent in. Uh, I believe ground

Matthew: broke, right? Yes. Yeah. Groundbreaking was on veterans day this past year, actually the day before veterans day on the Marine Corps birthday. Oh, we had a huge turnout. There was probably over a hundred people from the community there. Um, governor Pilon was there.

Matthew: Uh, Senator Ricketts was there. We had a number of. Uh, congressional and local politicians who are there, um, all to be a part of this and to really, uh, show their support for this project.

Skyler: That's awesome. And what's, uh, what's kind of the timeline going forward? What, what can we

Matthew: expect? Yeah, it is currently under construction right now with an anticipated completion date and the spring of 2025.

Matthew: Oh, okay. Tentatively, they're hoping for Memorial Day for the, uh, dedication, um, and we'll see. Um, we think that that's very doable at this point.

Skyler: Awesome. I love how they're lining up those, those dates with the holidays. That's, that's fantastic. That's perfect. So. Yeah, it

Matthew: works out very well.

Skyler: It does. Awesome.

Skyler: Well, hey, that's all I've got, Matt. Is there anything that I didn't? Touch on that. You really want to mention before, uh, before we close things out,

Matthew: you know, just to say that, you know, this was a very memorable project that, and I'm just glad that I was able to contribute to it.

Skyler: Absolutely. That's awesome.

Skyler: Well, again, Matt, thank you so much for sharing this incredible story about the Nebraska Veterans Memorial. Uh, cemetery and just all the elements that went into designing it and getting it to where it is now and, and on its way to be completed and being a integral part of the, the surrounding area and the surrounding community.

Skyler: So thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you. Awesome. Thank you of course, for listening. This has been another episode of laying the foundation. My name is Skylar. And of course you can definitely check out more episodes of laying the foundation podcast by checking out anywhere. The podcast can be streamed, whether that's apple podcast, Spotify, et cetera.

Skyler: And of course you can follow us on social media and see more about what we as a firm. Uh, at CMBA Architects are doing, whether that be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn, you can check us out on any of those platforms. And of course, don't forget to check out our website at CMBAarchitects. com. You can see all sorts of projects that we've worked on in the past.

Skyler: Uh, you'll see pictures about projects that we're currently working on, such as the Nebraska Veterans Memorial, uh, Cemetery. Uh, many others in a lot of the different sectors that we work within. So, um, once again, thank you for listening. This has been another episode of laying a foundation.

Post by CMBA
December 14, 2023