AUGUSTA — When Army veteran Don McIntire turns off Civic Center Drive into the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery to visit his parents’ graves, he considers the property beyond the front gates to be part of the cemetery itself.

So the Farmington resident and American Legion member can’t understand why the Maine Army National Guard plans to build a $30 million, nearly 100,000-square-foot headquarters building on the wooded area between Civic Center Drive and the main part of the cemetery.

“I think of (the land within) the original border of the cemetery, as you enter the gate, to be hallowed ground,” McIntire said. “And I think it is particularly inappropriate to put a military operation there. My father saw a lot of war and a lot of hell. He was in a MASH unit in World War II, where he treated a lot of Jewish prisoners. My father, though he was very proud of his military service, he’d rather rest in peace, not war.”

Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond, director of facilities and engineering for the Maine National Guard, said he’s spoken with McIntire about his objections. And even though Drummond has put many hours into planning the proposed new headquarters building and will continue to do so, he appreciates McIntire’s making his concerns known.

The new headquarters will provide administrative and office space for 200 to 300 Guard workers now working out of outdated buildings at Camp Keyes.

Drummond thinks McIntire could be put at ease when he sees the project’s details and location.

“I think if he saw the location, he’d understand it’s not really on the cemetery itself. It’s on the corner of Route 27, which is clearly an industrial and commercial area,” Drummond said. “If he were to walk the site and see the separation, he’d recognize it is adjacent to, but not part of, the cemetery property.

“But we appreciate the fact it concerns him and that there is a person out there who is mindful and wants to maintain that respect for the cemetery. We’re glad we’re not the only ones that care.”

McIntire said he’s not unfamiliar with the property. He said he doesn’t just go to his parents’ gravesite when he visits. He also often walks in the woods where the Guard headquarters would be and pauses by a stream and beaver dam on the property — all of which he considers part of the cemetery.

“A cemetery isn’t 100 percent coffins. It’s not just graves that make up the cemetery,” said McIntire, who served in the Army from 1970 to 1974 before starting a career in the oil industry.

McIntire said he approached state American Legion officials to find out whether their organization would take a stand on the property’s use. He said he was unable to organize a resolution in time to have it put before members at the upcoming state convention June 14 to 16.

Lloyd Woods, state adjutant at the American Legion Department of Maine headquarters in Waterville, said McIntire approached him about the issue, but said neither he nor other state legion officers had discussed the headquarters building, nor was he familiar enough with the proposal and the site to comment on them.

Drummond said the headquarters building will not encroach upon the cemetery. If there is anyone who understands the need for respect for the veterans’ cemetery, it’s the Guard members who will be working in the headquarters building, he said.

He said the land where the headquarters will be has been deemed too wet to be used for gravesites, and the state, if the property isn’t used for the headquarters, could decide to sell off the property.

“They could’ve sold that property. There could be a strip mall there,” Drummond said. “We kind of feel like we’re helping protect the integrity of the area. Who better than us to maintain the respect for the veterans’ cemetery property? We have friends buried there. Having that reminder, a few hundred feet away from us, is not a bad thing. I think it is mutually beneficial.”

McIntire wonders how the site can be suitable for a building but not for graves. He said plenty of veterans would like to be buried there rather than in the newer veterans’ cemetery on Mount Vernon Road.

Drummond said there is too much water in the soil for graves. He said the headquarters building would be on pilings.

The project would be built on part of a 43-acre parcel of the 165-acre cemetery property.

Woods said if the building indeed is going to be on part of the property that was originally intended for graves, the state Legion might well discuss it and take a stand on the location.

“It all depends on what the original setup was, where it would be located, and we’d go from there,” Woods said. “If it’s on hallowed ground, then, yes, we’d take a stand and voice our opinion on it. But I’m not familiar with what they intend to do. Until I see something specific on it, I would not comment officially.”

McIntire said he contacted Maine’s federal legislative delegation but hasn’t heard back.

Guard officials said the construction project could start in late 2014 and would take two years to complete. The Guard considered 42 sites for the facility before settling on the Civic Center Drive spot.

Drummond said a major attraction of the property is that the state already owns it, saving the cost of having to buy a spot for the headquarters.

The new building would house the administrative functions now done at Camp Keyes, next to the Augusta State Airport. Some Guard functions are expected to remain at Camp Keyes.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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