Belgroves Funeral Home’s new high-tech, space-saving burial system is the solution to the problem of chronic overcrowding in cemeteries. Making this suggestion was the company’s Chief Executive Officer Keith Belgrove. The $17 million burial facility, Orange Grove Memorial Gardens, at 10 Orange Grove Road, Trincity, Trinidad, which took four years to construct, has the capacity to hold 5,472 graves and also an unlimited number of cremation urns in one square acre of land.
“In traditional public cemeteries, almost five acres of land is necessary to accommodate that number,” Belgrove said. “Technology allows us to accomplish that feat in one acre. “We created a new concept in cemeteries, Orange Grove Memorial Gardens, because looking at the problems such as limited burial space, we realised that it is so chronic, the resolve to fix it will come slowly, as such we’ve created the answer to that.
The new burial method, called a lawn crypt system, is designed to maximise land use in the cemetery by stacking four caskets in an underground crypt. The design consists of a large, completely sealed, watertight concrete walled box structure extending 12 feet underground, with drainage pipes 15 feet down below, eight-inch reinforced concrete base pad, six-inch reinforced sidewalls and two-inch reinforced internal panels.
Belgrove said the new method created a totally green cemetery, as it was completely sealed and encased in concrete preventing any harmful chemicals or effluence, such as embalming fluids like formaldehyde, heavy metals used in coffin and casket construction, and the decomposition of human remains from leaching into the soil and contaminating the ground water.
“What we have done here is make a totally green, totally sound, environmentally-friendly cemetery that does not impact the water table in a negative way,” he said. “Sixty per cent of the population lives on the East-West corridor. Fifteen years ago, WASA (Water and Sewage Authority) did a test on the potable water across the East-West Corridor and they found that the nitrate level in the water was at the maximum allowable international standard set by the World Heath Organisation (WHO) safety limit of 50 mg/l.
“In the traditional cemeteries the nitrate level will be high in the ground water because of our recycling of the graves every five to seven years. “The end result of the decomposition process is nitrate and that is very high in our potable water in the cemeteries along the East-West Corridor. “That is a direct result of our continuous reburying in the graves across the cemeteries because the final end product, nitrate, becomes more concentrated in the areas of cemeteries and impact the potable water table.” Belgrove said when he first applied to WASA for connections for the cemetery, he was initially turned down because of the high nitrate concentration in the water test and he was told the authority did not want another cemetery in the area.
He said the government was probably not aware of the situation in order to put corrective measures into place. Another concern of Belgrove’s was what he described as the “cultural practices” in the traditional management of cemeteries which was actually desecration of graves when they were opened after five to seven years and the remains were casually scattered and thrown back in the
grave with the dirt.
His company, however, ensures the remains are placed at a greater depth and “with the greatest amount of reverence.” He said he wanted to change the image of cemeteries in Trinidad & Tobago from being characterised as cold, depressing and decaying to more light, airy and inviting spaces where families can hold picnics on the lawn near the graves of their deceased relatives’ on their birthdays and in the gazebo, in a safe and secure environment as is done in his cemetery.
Assistant CEO, Mercedes, Belgrove’s daughter, said that the new cemetery was the only one in the country that provided 24-hour security and was lit at night. She said events such as All Saints and the viewing of the Christmas creche were planned for owners and their families and were held on the wellmanicured, aesthetically pleasing cemetery grounds.
Mercedes added people were encouraged to come and spend time and pay homage to their departed relatives and bring their children along. The large pond was stocked with fish to keep the children entertained and they were given some Hillaries to take home.
The multi-million dollar all-in-one convenience funeral home/cemetery/crematorium facility more resembles a luxurious garden landscape and makes extensive use of imported Carrera Blanco marble from Italy and granite from China in the cemetery’s ornate walkways, curvewalls, benches, fountain, fish pond, columbaria, gazebo, monuments, statuettes and columns.
He said as the Belgroves group of companies owned the crematoria, casket factory and all the ancillary services, it can offer the highest quality at best value prices to people in their time of bereavement.
He said the crematorium was well-designed for members of the Hindu community enabling them to perform all their rituals just as if they were outdoors. On the southern side of the cemetery is the Family Estate area, bounded by hedges and granite benches, where a family can choose and have space for 12 encryptments with a personalised granite or marble monument.
The northern side holds the Supreme Family Estate area, which is the largest and most spacious reserved ground and has the capacity for 16 crypts with a customised granite or marble monument of their choice. Belgrove revealed that since the cemetery’s opening one year ago, it was 50 per cent purchased.
He said he didn’t want people to get the impression that once the four caskets were interred, they will stay for eternity, but explained that over time they will be “perpetually and continually recycled limitlessly.” Under the new system, the scenario of people tracking through fields of mud in rainy weather is a thing of the past, as the area surrounding the grave is flat and covered with grass. For encryptment services, an air conditioned tent with decor, which some people remark resembles a wedding setting, is pitched, padded chairs are provided, and drinking water and other facilities are available.
The Belgroves group of companies celebrates 124 years of being a family owned business for six generations on Aug. 15.