PORTSMOUTH- Four years ago this week, the Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation approached Portsmouth City Council with the idea of a public-private agreement.
On Monday, Debbie Gambill spoke before the council during the City Manager’s session to update them on its progress in maintaining one of what she called the oldest operating cemeteries in the Midwest.
“We thought it was a lot for any city to take care of,” she said, describing the 40-acre site home to 8,500 graves. “And we did believe that we could work together, and with many other non-profits, to make the necessary improvements come to fruition.”
Gambill described a list of seven parameters that would make the work become a real possibility. Those goals- fair risk allocation, strong private sector, reasonable government control, transparent and efficient procurement process, economic viability, and adequate legal framework- were attainable she believed.
A partnership between the non-profit and the city was formed, where City Manager Sam Sutherland’s office would assign varying departments to particular projects involving the cemetery.
“Because of that, it’s worked,” Gambill said. “It’s not always been easy, but it has worked.”
Funding at that time however remained an unanswered question. An answer to that was found through a historical re-enactment called the “Story of Us” which started in October 2017.
Tickets sold out for the event within two days, but only a profit of $25,000 was secured. The funding goal with the “Story of Us” was to restore the cemetery chapel, estimated to cost between $140,000 and $170,000.
Other groups were able to step up to help like the Portsmouth Area Ladies, who chipped in $10,000 to fix the chapel doors, and WAI Construction.
“Everything started to gel,” said Gambill, the re-enactment event held each year since with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the period of two years, we finished the chapel with all new windows, all crafted exactly like they would have been in 1884.”
Through partnerships with the Southern Ohio Medical Center and the Rotary Club of Portsmouth, half-and-half agreements have made the serenity garden and upcoming new archway which will be a replica of the original.
In the coming months, Gambill plans on seeking a contract renewal between FOGCF and the city.
“I could go on and on, but because of this relationship that we have forged with you guys we are very soon to cross $332,750-worth of work that will be completed in Greenlawn Cemetery,” she said. “None of these projects would have happened if we hadn’t the support of a strong city manager, a strong council.”
“We believe our success is tied to your success and projects that we have completed we hope are still here in 100 years. Everything we’re doing is for the long haul.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.