Aug. 28, 2003 — After years of promises and planning by the government, work has begun on a new St. Thomas public cemetery.
Excavation crews went to work in Smith Bay this week, digging a road leading through the new seven-acre burial ground. Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood said Thursday that the road would divide the public section from a specially designated veterans' cemetery. The public portion was expected to be ready first, he said. Roadwork is expected to be finished by the end of September.
Overcrowded conditions at St. Thomas' Western Cemetery have prompted calls from public officials for a new cemetery for the past several years. During Senate hearings held in 2000, officials said they were looking at a number of parcels in the Smith Bay area but at the time were working out acquisition matters with private property owners. At the time of the debate, a third section of the Western Cemetery had been put into use. By August 2003, that section has been significantly filled.
The Public Works Commissioner said work on the new cemetery is expected to be done in phases. Once the road is laid and paved, a retaining wall will follow, as well as grass seeding, and construction and paving of walkways. Work on the first four projects is expected to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.
Callwood said he hopes the first phase can be completed by the end of the year. "We're keeping our fingers crossed. As long as the money is there we hope to get these things done," he said.
Other phases of the project call for construction of a chapel, a maintenance building and creation of the island's first burial ground for members of the armed forces. Construction of the veterans' section is expected to cost up to $800,000, the commissioner said.
During the time officials were making plans for the new cemetery, the island's Islamic community approached Public Works, requesting that an acre be set aside where they could bury their dead, according to their traditions. But Callwood said so far, the idea remains in the discussion phase. "They have different customs. They have requested approximately an acre of land for a cemetery, but that's not up to me. That's a decision the governor would have to make," he said.
A spokesman for Government House said he had no information on whether the request for other accommodations to be included in the new public cemetery or elsewhere had reached the governor's desk.
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