U.S. awaits ruling on embassy survey
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The South Korean government has not yet reviewed a historical site survey that is key to beginning construction of a new U.S. Embassy chancery building, officials said last week.
About 40 or 50 members of the Cultural Properties Administration in Taejon must check out the survey, and it’s difficult to schedule a meeting, said Nam Hyo-dae, who works for the organization’s Cultural Heritage Bureau. The members are professors and experts in Korean cultural artifacts.
Nam said he didn’t know when the meeting may take place. U.S. Embassy officials are awaiting a decision by the South Korean government, said spokeswoman Maureen Cormack.
The study looks at the grounds of the former Gyeonggi girls high school, a barren lot in the Chung-dong neighborhood adjacent to the U.S. ambassador’s residence. The South Korean government encouraged the United States to buy the property in 1986 as the site for a new chancery.
The site has been empty since 1988, when the high school was vacated. The $240 million chancery project has been in limbo since concerns arose over the value of the site, formerly occupied by royal family buildings in the late 19th century.
Historians believe King Kojong, Korea’s last king, used a path in the area to escape pro-Japanese collaborators who sought his removal. While many historical temples and royal palaces were destroyed during the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation and the later Korean War, some foundations and artifacts may lie beneath the soil.
Local activists have protested using the site for a chancery building, and South Korean law mandates site surveys before construction can begin on a site.
The study was commissioned by Baum Associates, the architectural firm contracted by the embassy to design the project. About 18 researchers worked from July to November 2003 on the study.
While not publicly released, the survey shows the site has historic meaning and should be preserved, an official from the Joongang Research Center of Cultural Heritage said last November. The study also was done with the Foundation for Preservation of Cultural Properties.
In addition to a new chancery, the embassy also plans an eight-story apartment building to house its employees.