At URI, Ancient History before It Begins? ; HIGHER Education

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University threatens to terminate lease over stalled progress on Greek cultural center

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Like all groundbreakings, the one for a Greek cultural center on the University of Rhode Island campus in 2009 brimmed with optimistic visions of the future.

Then-URI President Robert L. Carothers -- a big supporter of the project that would house the university's Humanities Center and grant fellowships to graduate students and faculty studying the classics -- attended the event next to the school's Fine Arts Center.

State educational leaders a day earlier had voted to preserve the university's classical-studies major, and the General Assembly had granted the nonprofit Greek organization that was building the structure a special 99-year lease at a dollar a year. The $5- million building and outdoor amphi-theatre would open in the fall of 2011.

But more than six months after the planned opening, all that stands at the site is a fenced-in hole in the ground, a concrete foundation and 12 masonry columns holding up air.

The university, which says it has not made any financial investment in the project, has put the Hellenic Society Paideia on notice that it is "very dissatisfied with the lack of progress" and may terminate the lease arrangement, said spokesman Linda Acciardo.

"We certainly realize that the economy has brought challenges to their fundraising," Acciardo said in a statement, "but construction completion is far beyond the terms of the lease, the condition of the foundation is unacceptable, the lack of a building permit (beyond the foundation permit) and the incomplete design and development plans tell us that this project is no longer feasible."

No final determination, however, has been made, Acciardo said.

Don't worry, insists Ilias Tomazos, president of the Hellenic Society.

"We love very much this project," he said Friday. "It is in our soul. It's taking a little bit more time but in the Greek community, we go slow," he said, chuckling. In the end, Tomazos promised, "we will make something beautiful."

Tomazos teaches engineering at the University of Connecticut, where the Hellenic Society also built a Greek cultural center in 1995. He also teaches Greek studies at URI.

He says the Hellenic Society hopes to finish the building by the end of next year -- and without a mortgage.

Virtually all of the construction work is being donated by Greek Americans from around New England and beyond. For instance, the Nikolaos Bouras Foundation Co. in New Jersey is providing the structural steel. The Pan-Rhodian Society Diagoras of Baltimore, Md., is providing all the cement blocks and concrete. The society is also soliciting cash contributions, "but the economy hasn't been what it was five or ten years ago," Tomazos said. …

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