Florida city low on cemetery space considers repurposing schools

FILE - Headstones in a rural cemetery.

A Florida city, grappling with a shortage of cemetery space, is considering a controversial proposal from some city officials to close local schools to accommodate more burial grounds, according to local reports.

During an April 16 commission conference in Fort Lauderdale, Mike Watson, the District 1 representative on the city's Cemetery System Board of Trustees, advocated for closing under-enrolled county schools and repurposing them as cemeteries by 2025
"I honestly understand the school board has not made a decision but want to make
Sure you are aware of the need," Watson said.

Superintendent Peter Licata of the Broward County School Board recently announced his retirement and told the board he would recommend which schools could close for a vote in June. However, according to the Miami Herald, no specific plans had been announced before the June 18 deadline.

Fort Lauderdale operates four municipal cemeteries, including the historic Evergreen Cemetery. Another notable site, Lauderdale Memorial Park Cemetery, which reserves plots for veterans, hosts one of the city's largest Memorial Day events.

The Miami Herald reports that the issue of limited cemetery space was first brought up during a March 14 meeting of the Cemetery System Board of Trustees. At this meeting, the board voted 4-1 in favor of requesting that commissioners consider repurposing closed schools to expand burial grounds.

Florida's growing cemetery space problem 

Amid concerns about cemetery space, the parents of actor Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in Disney's "Frozen," have filed a lawsuit against a South Florida cemetery, alleging it improperly sold a grave space already reserved for them, according to local reports

According to the lawsuit, Stanton Schwartz and Susan Gad Schwartz purchased a plot at Eternal Light Memorial Gardens, a cemetery promoted as the premier all-Jewish burial site that aligned with their Hebrew faith. 

The cemetery's promise, "From Generation to Generation … Service You Can Trust," was a crucial factor in their decision.

The Schwartz couple had planned to be buried next to each other and alongside Susan Schwartz’s parents, Evelyn and Joseph Greenblat, Holocaust survivors and grandparents of actor Josh Gad. They purchased four adjacent grave spaces to ensure their eternal union. The Greenblatt family is already interred in their designated spaces.

However, the lawsuit claims that Eternal Light Memorial Gardens sold Stanton Schwartz’s plot to another party and allowed someone else's remains to be buried there without the family’s knowledge. The Schwartz family learned of this breach through a third party, as the cemetery did not inform them directly.

Despite their requests, the cemetery has not rectified the situation by removing the unauthorized remains, causing significant distress to the family. The lawsuit highlights the need for Eternal Light to be held responsible for failing to meet its ethical and legal commitments to the Schwartz family.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.