By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

The town’s first cemetery is expected to open for business this summer near the corner of Queen Creek Road and 156th Street. When Gilbert Memorial Park broke ground last July, a spring debut was announced. “Construction is well underway,” said Bryce Bunker, president of Bunker Family Funerals and Cremation. “We are excited about the progress.” Bunker attributed the delayed opening to the normal construction process such as getting approvals that took longer than anticipated. The Mesa-based business has a 99-year lease agreement to build and own the 22-acre cemetery on town land. Bunker Family Funerals will pay Gilbert rent on the land and share revenue from the operation of the cemetery. Gilbert anticipated it will receive between $100,000 and $200,000 annually in rent and revenue sharing over the course of the lease, according to town documents. According to town estimates, the project is expected to generate over $13 million in revenue for Gilbert over the course of the lease, well above the $2.3 million the town paid for the land in 1999. The cemetery is being built in multiple phases. The first and largest phase calls for a 10,000-square-foot funeral home with a chapel, a banquet facility and kitchen, private family estates for both burial and cremations, a cremation garden, a pond and an indoor glass-front cremation niche on 10 acres, according to Bunker. The cemetery will reflect the growing trend in people choosing cremation over burial, according to Bunker. “We got several different memorialization options for cremation options to meet any budget,” he said. “But certainly lot of our emphasis will be to make sure people who opt for cremation have several options.” In 2016, cremation for the first time overtook traditional burial in the United States, AARP reported. In 2017, the U.S. cremation rate was 51.6 percent and by 2030, it’s projected to reach 71 percent, according to Cremation Association of North America. Bunker said he has a list of about 700 people so far who’ve inquired about reserving a spot at the cemetery or about the progress of the construction. When the cemetery is completed, residents no longer will have to travel to other areas such as Mesa, Chandler and Queen Creek for their final resting place. Bunker said the capacity of the Gilbert cemetery is about 75-plus years. “We look forward to serving the community with something that is unique and different that the residents of Gilbert can be proud of,” Bunker said. To be on the list for updates on Gilbert Memorial Park, 2100 E. Queen Creek Road, go to gilbertmemorialpark.com