Business

Housing the dearly departed

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 20, 2012    

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RONALD Chisholm, 79, tried retiring but couldn't resist his 'true calling' while reading the obituaries on Sundays.

So he turned the backyard of his St Andrew home into a workshop last November and began constructing columbariums for the Jamaican market, citing a dramatic increase in popularity of cremations in the country as a catalyst for wanting to do the service.

A columbarium is a multi-unit structure that stores urns containing cremated remains of the deceased. They are comprised of a number of individual units, called niches, housing one urn each.

Chisholm, through his newly formed company, Omega Solutions, is planning to tap into what he says is a growing market for the structures, with churches representing the bulk of the anticipated demand. St Andrew Parish, St Margarets and Sts Peter & Paul are some of the local churches which already have columbariums on their properties. Lack of land space for cemetaries and health concerns are major factors driving the increasing practice of cremations and demand for columbariums, Chisholm said.

"In almost all parishes of Jamaica, cemetery space is becoming scarce commodity for want of a better word," he said. "They are filled to capacity."

Indeed, the company produces 2,000 niches per 1,100 square-feet — 20 niches equal an average door space.

What's more is that some parishes have even started to curtail burials in family plots on their premises, with leakage into underground water supply now a major concern, Chisholm said, adding that columbariums also provide a relatively comfortable and convenient setting for families to store deceased loved ones.

"Columbaria are frequently located close to a religous community thereby providing a measure of comfort and convenience. This is a less formal, more intimate and a more compact option than the traditional cemetery," said Chisholm, who has a background in technical construction, running his own company for 35 years before closing the business in 2007.

Omega Solutions builds outdoor and indoor columbariums, including a series of pillar brackets — up to 12-sided pillars — arranged to form gazebo-style memorials.

The company uses cement fibre to produce niches for indoors and steel matting and concrete structures for outdoors. Faceplates are made using granite or marble, while urns are made of galvanised steel.

Chisholm said Omega produces its structures for up to two-thirds the cost of aluminium-made imports, the most commonly used type of columbariums currently on the local market. A property, such as a church, usually sets the rate for the use of their niches, typically retailing for $60,000 to $70,000 locally, Chisholm said, noting that the family only owns the urn and the cremated remains.

Omega's value proposition is therefore savings combined with units that are less likely to be ravaged by thieves, he said.

"I was working with imported aluminium once, but it was so vulnerable to scrap theft, I gave it up and went with the outdoor concrete," he noted.

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