- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

GILBERT, Ariz. (AP) - Gilbert residents have grown accustomed to laying their loved ones to rest out of town, but the 96-year-old community is working to change that.

The Phoenix suburb is negotiating the establishment of its first cemetery with Bunker Family Funerals & Cremation after decades of interring residents in Mesa, Queen Creek and other nearby communities, The Arizona Republic (https://bit.ly/29gO07h ) reported.

“I’ve been here for 30-plus years, and I remember it being a big deal the day the first big grocery store came to town, and it being a big deal the day the medical center opened,” Mayor John Lewis said. “This is another big deal in terms of our life cycle and an important part of our future.”

The cemetery’s first phase is expected to accommodate more than 9,000 burials and could open in spring 2018 if the talks and construction go smoothly. Conceptual drawings of the cemetery, which would be located on 22 acres of park land, show a funeral home, cremation garden, mausoleum and private estates.

The full site is estimated to have a 75-year capacity.

Gilbert has grown to a population of 240,000, and International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association Executive Director Robert Fells said it’s wise for the town to act quickly.

“A quarter-million people sooner or later are going to meet their maker, and if the town doesn’t have any cemetery at all, that could be a problem,” Fells said.

Gilbert appears to be the largest municipality in the Phoenix area without its own burial grounds.

“Historically, families have preferred to bury their loved ones in the town where they live, because it makes it easier to visit the grave site,” Fells said. “If there are other cemeteries 40 miles away, OK, that’s nice, but most people are still going to want to have something where they’re living.”

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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