West Hartford's largest cemetery now has an on-site office again.
The office and chapel at Fairview Cemetery - which contains the records of the around 20,000 people buried there - was closed in 2014 after it was discovered that the building had suffered major water damage due to the office being underground. It reopened in October, after three years of renovations.
"What they had was a moisture problem because three sides of the building are all subterranean," said Bill Phibbs, the town's capital projects manager. "It's concrete, so it's kind of porous. Moisture damaged the interior, so they found it best once they started doing the work to gut it."
What started as a project to repair a bathroom turned into a three year project that needed to be sensitive to the 90-year-old building's history.
"It was going to be a bathroom renovation because the bathroom wasn't ADA compliant," said Rick DiBella, the public works grounds manager, who at the time, came back from vacation to a project more involved than just the bathroom.
The building, which includes an upstairs chapel that has been closed to the public for decades, once served a different purpose for Fairview Cemetery.
"Originally, the downstairs was where they prepared bodies," DiBella said. "There was an elevator, which they'd use to bring them up to the chapel area, where they would have services. Funeral homes have taken over that."
The renovated office includes improved LED lighting, an efficient air conditioning and heating system, a landscaped entryway, and new shingles for the roof that match the appearance of the original slate shingles. They also chemically cleaned the outside of the building to rid it of years of damage from tree sap and acid rain.
"It was years and years of pollution that destroyed the marble," Phibbs said. "It brought it back to its luster by taking off 90 years of contaminants."
The nondenominational chapel - which retains its original stained glass windows, wood, and other details - would be a more involved process to restore for use. At some point, they'd like to be able to offer the chapel for services.
DiBella's office is located inside the small Fairview Cemetery office. He said having an active on-site office at the cemetery again is important to not only the employees, but to the people who need to make plans to have someone buried in the cemetery.
"The inconvenience of not having an office here was just overwhelming," DiBella said. "Dealing with burials and the loss of loved ones, it's an emotional thing to begin with. People couldn't come to the office and we have to send them to the town hall. We were dealing with a grieving family, and we sell them a lot, and then we have to send them to the town hall. They couldn't just come through the door and take of it all. It was hard on families. It made a tough time even harder."
Having the office open again also makes work easier for the cemetery's employees.
"It's easier for the crew to interact with the office," DiBella said. "They can get the records they need themselves. They don't have to keep calling back. Everything has a much quicker turnaround."