Rarely do people have their work viewed by U.S. presidents, congressmen, and millions of tourists. But that’s the kind of scrutiny Kent Carson encounters. He is construction engineer at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.
The cemetery accommodates four million visitors annually. “It’s exciting to know that decisions you make will impact hundreds of people every day,” he says.
His work at ANC has included historic preservation of the white marble structures and monuments, as well as renovation of the granite plazas at the John F. Kennedy gravesite. Current projects include developing 45 acres for burial sites that will last into 2050, and a $6 million renovation of the reception building at the Memorial Amphitheater-the gathering place for world dignitaries when they come to visit the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the spot U.S. presidents come on Memorial Day and Veterans Day to eulogize our nation’s fallen patriots.
For employees overseeing the repair, maintenance, and general appearance of this national shrine, there’s much work to do.
“This is the only place I’ve worked where you get more money for your projects than you ask for,” says Carson, a 1982 Washington State University graduate in mechanical engineering.
Four sections of land have been designated for development. Digging began on 33 acres last November in preparation for 20,000 to 26,000 new gravesites. Design begins later this year on another 31 forested acres that will contain 9,000 gravesites and 24,700 niches in a columbarium/retaining wall system. Plans call for construction of a parking structure in 2005 and 8,800 gravesites, plus 7,055 additional niches to a boundary wall on a 15-acre site to be acquired from Fort Myer adjacent to the national cemetery.
When the Navy Annex building on a hilltop overlooking Washington, D.C., is transferred to the ANC, 42 acres will be developed for 17,400 gravesites and 30,241 niches. The project is scheduled to begin in 2010.
Renovation of the Memorial Amphitheater will address water damage throughout the building, the interior drainage system, and flooding in a restroom and lower-level chapel area. The two-story building with arcade ring, stage, and observation deck was designed and constructed during World War I and is a premier attraction in the national capital.
“The biggest challenge in developing the site is acquiring the land from the Army, Navy, or Park Service,” says Carson. “They are reluctant to give up space, as you can imagine. But Congress mandates the land be transferred [to ANC], and when. They complain, salute, and we proceed.”
Carson, the cemetery’s master planner for construction projects, is part of a three-man team that also writes up construction and maintenance contracts. Then the team oversees the work as it progresses. An outside agency, generally the Army Corps of Engineers, is hired to oversee the big jobs.
“This is one of the big ones, and will be under their watchful eye,” Carson says.
He joined the Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla after graduating from WSU. Many of the corps’ projects in involved salmon and steelhead runs on all the Snake River dams. Then he spent nine years in Kaiserslautern, Germany, doing energy conservation and construction work for military bases in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and England, followed by six years at Camp Zama near Tokyo, planning construction projects for military bases in Japan and Okinawa.
“I always loved traveling and solving engineering problems,” says the 22-year civilian employee of the U.S. Army, and son of a career soldier. His wife, Elaine, and four children have followed him around the world. He graduated from Fort Vancouver High School and always considered southwest Washington “home.” Elaine is from Spokane, so the Carsons may end up retiring there. “Somewhere in the Northwest is our target,” he says.