CAPE MAY - The renovations of the Franklin Street School got a big boost April 7 when city officials were notified that the project was selected for a $500,000 federal grant.
In a release, Mayor Chuck Lear stated, “the momentum to save this historic building continues to grow. What started just a few years ago as a major initiative under my administration has gained tremendous support and will now be a reality.”
The city owns the Franklin Street School which was used as a school for African American children during segregation when it was built in 1928. Since segregation ended in 1949, the building has not been used consistently. The school building has been deteriorating for years.
Construction will start in 2021 to convert the old school to a library and community center. The new library will include state of the art technology, multipurpose rooms, a demonstration kitchen, maker space and a mezzanine area. The county, library commission and the city have all committed $2 million each to this project.
Mayor Lear stated, “this project could only be possible with partners willing to financially participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity. We thank our partners, the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the County Library Commission for their high level of commitment to saving this school.”
“The Franklin Street School has great historical value”, stated Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton. “We appreciate the hard work the elected officials in Cape May have done with us and the Library Commission.”
Freeholder Marie Hayes, liaison to the County Library Commission noted, “We think this is a great project for our county. Libraries are community centers and we believe this new library will enhance the quality of life in Cape May.”
The school stands near what was once the heart of a thriving African American community in the city. In the 1960s, when much of Cape May had fallen into disrepair, urban renewal funds were used to raze many of the buildings belonging to the African American community.
Nevertheless, some key elements of the old neighborhood remain. Adjacent to the school is the Macedonia Baptist Church, with a once abandoned building next to it being converted into the Harriet Tubman Museum.
Coincidentally, the Tubman Museum will sit on the corner that was a nexus of abolitionist activity and discussion.
Across the street is the 1846 Stephen Smith House, a freed slave who amassed wealth as a Philadelphia industrialist. Smith founded the local African American Episcopal (AME) Church, recently damaged by fire, but now being considered as part of a neighborhood rebirth.
The city has also secured a Neighborhood Preservation Program Grant from the State to help fund the enhancement to the Franklin/Lafayette Street Neighborhood. A steering committee has been established to guide this process.
Both grants were secured by Rutala Associates, a local planning firm that serves as the city’s grant consultant.
The $500,000 grant is provided by the African American Civil Rights Grant Program, funded by the Historic Preservation Fund, and administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
The Franklin Street School was one of 51 projects funded by the National Park Service.
“These grants will fund important projects that document, interpret and preserve sites that tell the stories of the African American experience in the pursuit of civil rights,” said National Parks Service Deputy Director David Vela. “Thanks to the coordination of public and private partners, these projects will help connect Americans to historic places that preserve American history.”