The Prince William County school system has permission to begin moving several grave sites discovered on the site of the new high school. But some say more should be done to avoid disturbing what is likely a 100-year-old family cemetery.
The still unnamed high school, which will be built near the intersection of Va. 234 and Hoadly Road, has been in the news for more than a year because of proposal to include a $10.5 million aquatics facility in the new school, despite the school system’s ongoing budget challenges.
The school board has yet to approve the pool but is expected to make a decision before construction begins this spring.
But school officials said in August that graves were found on a portion of the school site designated for the football stadium – sparking some criticism about the location of what will be the county’s 12th high school.
Following state law, the school system filed the necessary paperwork with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to disinter and move the graves and have received permits to do so, Prince William County School Board Chairman Milt Johns, R-At Large, said Monday in an email.
The gravesites are unregistered, and the school system still does not know whose remains are buried there, Johns said.
William Olson, chairman of the Prince William Historical Commission’s cemetery committee, said the commission was not told contractors would soon begin moving the gravesites and says more should be done to identify the remains and avoid disturbing the site.
“I think removal of the graves needs to be something that is justified by a real need,” Olson said.
The cemetery is marked with surveying ribbons and was likely discovered in 2009 or earlier, Olson said. The graves were initially found by surveyors who identified them based on field stones placed around the graves and telltale depressions in the ground. It is believed the cemetery dates back to before 1903, Olson said.
Olson said he wants to know if the design of the new school stadium could be altered to avoid moving the cemetery. That’s what happened when gravesites were discovered on the site that became Hylton High School. Construction plans were shifted so that burial sites there were not disturbed, he said.
“The other thing is to have a full, open meeting where the public is told of the need to move the gravesites,” Olson added. “It just seems to be a little too quiet.”
Olson said it’s equally important to identify the cemetery so family members can be notified. Although local historians have begun looking through land records and old obituaries, they haven’t yet figured it out, Olson said.
To get more details about state’s reasons for approving the graves’ removal, Olson said he has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with both the school system and the state Department of Historic Resources.
Johns said public notice was given of plans to move the gravesites, and no comments were received.
“Archeologists will handle the excavation,” he added. “If there are remains they will be handled sensitively and with dignity no matter whose remains are there.”
The school system has hired Wetland Solutions to move the graves, which could take two to three weeks. Calls to the Gainesville-based company were not returned Monday. Johns said he did not know where the remains would be relocated.
Olson said the disinterment process is a tedious one, involving people carefully removing the soil by hand, and doesn’t always result in the discovery of intact remains.
“It’s hard to tell what they’re going to find,” he said. “Depending on the acidity of the soil, they might find nails from the coffin. They may find bones. It just depends.”
Olson said he the county Historical Commission has a meeting Tuesday night and will likely discuss the situation at the high school site.