URI forms Ad Hoc Gravesite Task Force

KINGSTON, RI — September 30, 1999 — The University of Rhode Island has announced the formation of a twelve-member Ad Hoc Gravesite Task Force. The task force will advise the University and the Convocation Center Building Committee as to the best way to proceed to address a series of critical issues with regard to the discovery of a Colonial-era cemetery in the vicinity of the new Convocation Center project. Judith Swift, faculty assistant to the provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of theater, will chair the task force. Swift was appointed by Kathleen Mallon, URI’s director of strategic planning and executive assistant to the president. “It is important that we treat this discovery with respect for both the historic significance of the site and the wishes of the relatives of those who are buried on the property,” said Mallon. “At the same time we want to do all that we can to move forward with the construction of the Convocation Center according to the current schedule which projects groundbreaking to take place in the spring of 2000,” added Mallon, who also chairs the Convocation Center Building Committee. “We will do everything in our power to accommodate the descendants and ensure that the scholarly and historic preservation issues are also handled appropriately, ” said Swift, who served as chair of the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities for three years and was on its board for six years. “Of course it goes without saying that we intend to follow all legal and procedural requirements throughout the process,” said Swift. She added that the process will require the concerted and coordinated attention of a small group of internal as well as external constituents and experts. The charge to the task force, which held its first meeting on Tuesday, September 28, is to forward a recommendation regarding options for dealing with the cemetery on the Convocation Center site. Options might include moving the entire cemetery, leaving the site intact or relocating a small number of graves. The pros and cons of each of the options will be reviewed by the task force and forwarded to the University administration. At its first meeting, members of the task force reported on the current archaeological findings and conjectural boundaries of the gravesite, identified additional information that would assist in the process, discussed the role of the Narragansett Tribe in the process, reported on the current Convocation Center site activity, and discussed the status of the cemetery ordinance being written by the Town of South Kingstown. “I believe we were able to reach an agreement to work cooperatively to resolve this issue, given all cultural viewpoints and legal parameters,” said Swift. A final report is expected to be delivered by mid-October by the Public Archaeology Laboratory, a draft ordinance is being distributed to members of the task force, and the University has begun the process to advertise for input from persons who may be identified as descendants of those buried on the site. Members of the Ad Hoc Gravesite Task Force are: John Brown, Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Officer James Garman, Ph.D., senior archaeologist, The Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc. Pawtucket, RI Ray Nickerson, principal planner, Town of South Kingstown Paul Robinson, state archaeologist, Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission Nat Nazareth, former president and current trustee of the URI Foundation and a proprietor/partner with the Providence Casket Co. Sylvia Spears Peters, representative of the URI Native American Committee and a lecturer in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies Ronald J. Onorato, URI honors professor of art, whose art historical research focus is American gravestones and public sculpture Paul Abell, URI professor emeritus of chemistry Lou Saccoccio, URI general counsel Linda Acciardo, URI director of communications Harry Davis, URI assistant director of facilities and operations Larry Bacher, program manager for the Convocation Center project, and Mallon will serve ex-officio. -xxx- For More Information: Linda A. Acciardo (401) 874-2116