After more than six years of waiting for local families, the first niche at the city’s new Pine Ridge Cemetery columbarium has been filled. The columbarium’s installation, a part of the City of Merritt’s 2017 Cemetery Master Plan, was affected by delays due to increasing project costs and a lack of operational capacity to keep the cemetery expansion on time. 

Last weekend, the first niche was filled, despite years of delays that saw a number of planned features in the cemetery delayed, including the columbarium and a surrounding garden that remains incomplete. 

“The short of it is that this project came in significantly over budget, having gone to request for proposal (RFP),” said Chief Administrative Officer Sean Smith, addressing council at a regular meeting in August last year.

“We budgeted $240,000 to complete phase 2 of the project, and we’re just not really even close. We had three bids come in, and the low bid was $385,000, which puts us $145,000 over budget. That is, in part, due to an increase in prices, there’s no question.”

Smith added during the meeting that the city’s initial budget may have been low in its estimations on the quantity of retaining walls needed for the expansion. He also cited contractors and public works staff’s concerns with a possible lack of City oversight should the project advance this year, as the City itself and some contractors are understaffed. 

Staff suggested at the time that council push the project, allowing for more city oversight on the project and preventing a budget amendment. Smith noted that three families are currently waiting to inter loved ones at Pine Ridge Cemetery, with once family waitlisted since 2017, causing concern for some councillors. The then-council chose unanimously to defer the project to 2023. 

The Herald has reached out to the city regarding the status of the cemetery’s expansion.