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Prince William County could move cemetery to make way for new fire station

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The Coles district is getting a new fire station.

But the location and plan for the new Coles District Fire Station is currently the subject of some controversy, as one of the proposed sites would require the county to dig up and move an old cemetery on the property.

The original station at 13712 Dumfries Road in Manassas, was built in 1976, according to county documents.

“The current station we have has exceeded its life cycle…a few years ago we hired a consultant – it was an architectural firm – who took a look at each of our stations…the recommendation for the Coles station was that it be replaced. Putting any more investment into that station, really isn’t going to give [us] the proper return. The construction style of that building was only meant to be a 30-year building, and we’ve far exceeded that,” said Prince William Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee.

The new fire station would take 18-months to complete once it has been approved, said McGee.

According to McGee, the cemetery – which is abandoned – was from the 1800’s, and the county did not originally own the parcel the cemetery is sitting on, but purchased it as part of the plans to replace the fire station.

“We looked at some of the options for how to place the station on the property, and there was [the] cemetery. It was abandoned. We’ve known that it was there, but it is kind of ‘hidden away’…there are not visitors to it, it’s an abandoned graveyard,” said McGee.

Potomac Local visited the cemetery and found that there were no headstones remaining, but there were some field stones, and that the ground had sunken in, in the areas where human remains are buried.

“When looking at the site, it was very difficult to locate a station without moving the cemetery,” said McGee.

Four options for the fire station

County documents show that there are four options for the new fire station – with ‘Option A’ being the preferred route, according to McGee.

‘Option A’ would build a new fire station next to the current station, and relocate the cemetery to another site on the property, according to county documents. This would fit into the $10.7 million budgeted for the project, by Prince William County.

‘Option B’ would entail rebuilding on the same location, using a temporary facility in the interim, which would cost an additional $1.2 million, stated county documents.

‘Option C’ would be to build a two-story station, which would impact response times – according to McGee – and cost an extra $888,275, stated county documents.

And ‘Option D’ would reduce the sound buffer area for nearby residents, by building around the cemetery, it would create a segregated access point for apparatus, and cost an additional $1 million, according to county documents.

Descendants, historical groups upset by plans to move cemetery

While McGee stated that the county wants to involve descendants of those buried in the cemetery in the process, and wants the relocation of the graves to be done in a respectful way, the Prince William County Historical Commission and descendants have expressed their concerns.

“The Historical Commission objects to [the preferred plan] as we feel there must be some alternatives to disturbance of the cemetery…one being a two story firehouse, which would be similar to the last five firehouses built in Prince William County, and the proposed firehouse for Bacon Race [Fire Station]. They’re arguing that two story firehouses actually have a problem with increased response time, which we could not understand, as to why it seems to be the preferred plan in the past and the present,” said Bill Olsen, a member of the Prince William County Historical Commission.

Olsen stated that cemeteries shouldn’t be considered ‘moveable’ sites.

“The discussion should be, ‘Is there justification for moving a cemetery’ which is not normally considered a moveable object,” said Olsen.

Susan Tansill, a county resident whose husband is directly descended from one of the families buried at the cemetery, stated that moving the cemetery is a bad idea. Tansill had spoken with the county after hearing about the possible disinterment.

“When I responded back to the [county] that we were really more interested in hoping that they would keep the cemetery intact, I didn’t hear anything back from the county…our family feels that it’s better to preserve the dignity of the deceased, and work around, what is obviously inconvenient, but a fact on the site, instead of digging them up,” Tansill said.

A public hearing about the fire station and the cemetery will be held on September 8 at 2 p.m. at the McCoart Building in Woodbridge. Following the public hearing, the board of supervisors will ultimately select which of the four options the county will pursue, to build the new Coles District Fire Station.

Prince William County Public Schools officials exhumed graves at the site of the future Charles J. Colgan High School, just across the street from the Coles District Fire Station. The remains dug up will be re interned at the high school site.  

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  • Peter

    Would you please tell us the exact location of where the cemetery is now? An address would be very helpful. Thank you.

    • Potomac Local

      There is no assigned address for the cemetery. The address for the fire station is listed above – 13712 Dumfries Road.

  • Mac

    Please consider the fact that the current “Cemetery” which has little to zero markings, trees growing through the graves and no recognition whatsoever is not honoring those resting here. IF they are moved slightly back on the property a very nice and distinctive site will be created. much better than what has been here before. Graves are moved all of the time, for a variety of reasons, this is a simple call. Move them so they are honored better and moved aside this busy and noisy area.

  • Richard

    The idea of “respectful” re-interment goes out the window when the coffins (if any) have deteriorated and tree roots have intermingled with the remains. The remains cannot be exhumed in tact even if most or all of the bits and parts can be. The notion that the dead need not be honored simply because they no longer receive visitors should alarm everyone with a wish to one day rest in peace.

  • John

    I’d like to see some data on the increased response times due to a two story fire station. I for one am tired of Chief McGee and his antics. Money wasn’t an issue when he needed extra staffing for apparatus that barely turn a wheel. Now, suddenly he’s fiscally responsible?
    Personally, I think the difference between this site and the high school site, is that this is a know cemetery, whereas the one at the high school site was not. The fact that there are no headstones doesn’t mean that it is “abandoned”. I am speculating, but I am sure there were wooden crosses or headstones at some point in time. I’ve also seen a number of smaller family cemeteries preserved and built around in the West end of PWC.

  • NoVA.1

    The “Option A” is the only option that does not require additional funding. Are you willing to pay more? Personally I think Board of County Supervisors should go with “Option C”, it requires least amount of additional funding. I don’t think it would impact response times because all recently built fire stations are two-story.

  • Betsy Sachs

    The Lynns buried here are from my family line. They would be my great, great, great, great grandfather, etc. If they were moved to the same location where the Lynn family (last year) for the sports field were located, that would make a nice family gathering. The Lynn family owned a lot of land and farmed in the county and therefore are buried in many different locations on the land they owned.

  • Mr Price

    I would like to chime in on this .. I have lived in this county for 43 years I grew up here . I know most people who live in the county never take to the time to look up all the corruption with in the county government I think most would be shocked at whats been swept under the carpet .. But in relation to the current topic. The parcel the new high school was built on was previously on the historical registry and when the county decided this was the location they wanted to build on they purchased the property removed it from the registry and built on the site which should have been preserved as this is part of the history of the county. And me personally I find it funny that our county government purchases residential property subdivideds it and sits on it for years and then says they have a short fall in the budget and they have to raise taxes . But bottom line this is disgraceful moving FINAL RESTING PLACES period especially when they own so much land …. that we paid for !

  • Doug Remy

    I just came across this article. The graveyard in question is the one belonging to the family of Col Robert Tansill USMC, CSMC and CSA?

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