Vilnius, February 21, BNS–Proposals by a Jewish heritage organization for refurbishing the Palace of Sports located on top of an old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius without moving any soil would bring the cost of the project up by 2 million euros, Lithuanian Government vice chancellor Rimantas Vaitkus said.
“When there was analysis of whether it would be possible to set up an underground entrance, in their opinion that would enter into what is called the A section which can’t be touched, where earth cannot be moved. That would make the project 2 million euros more expensive. And we don’t know what’s going to happen now because Turto bankas, which is doing the construction, doesn’t have enough money to bring the project to completion. Either additional funding must be sought, or the whole project has to be reconsidered, but there no decision has been made yet,” the vice chancellor told BNS.
He said engineer Arieh Klein, the representative of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe who visited Vilnius at the end of January with a delegation from the committee, proposed setting up a planned adjacent building without moving soil, on columns. Jewish religious tradition forbids disturbing mortal remains buried in the ground. These changes and internal renovation of the Palace of Sports would cost 2 million euros.
Architect Sigitas Kuncevičius won the bid for the project with a projected cost of 67,000 euros, but the Public Tenders Service annulled the tender and announced another. New procedures were begun last week for determining sub-contractors as well as contractors for the project.
The plan is for the reconstructed facility to host conferences and cultural and commercial events. There is a plan for constructing premises inside for use by the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The center, which the Lithuanian Government has recognized as holding state significance, is to open its doors in 2018. The preliminary cost for the project, including acquisition of the building from the Ūkio bankas investment group, is about 19.7 million euros and the center to emerge from it is planned for lease for 10 years to an operator selected by public tender.
Lithuania’s Turto bankas acquired the property last October from the Ūkio bankas investment group undergoing bankruptcy and the Žalgirio Sports Arena company.
The Palace of Sports complex was built on top of a former Jewish cemetery which existed from the 16th century. The cemetery was closed in the 19th century. In the 1970s the Palace of Sports facility was constructed by the Soviets over a major portion of the former cemetery. All boundaries of the former cemetery were erased during construction. The extent of the former cemetery was established again in 2009 and a parking lot above part of the graveyard was closed down.
Last September several ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis called upon the Lithuanian Government to call off plans for the reconstruction of the Palace of Sports, saying it could violate the Šnipiškės Jewish cemetery. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe said they were not opposed to the plan in essence, saying it would not harm the graves.