CAPE MAY, NJ -- After months of planning, the restoration and expansion of the historic Franklin Street School in Cape May have come to fruition. Local and County officials broke ground on the County's newest state-of-the-art library on October 10. The Franklin Street School project was a culmination of three government entities coming together to preserve a piece of history by redeveloping a historic school into a library and community center for public use.
The groundbreaking ceremony was hosted by Cape May Mayor Zachary Mullock, standing with community leaders who lead in this highly anticipated project. "This is a historic day for Cape May and the beginning of another important component of Cape May's Arts and Culture District. While Franklin Street is small, it plays a big part in our vision to restore and showcase our African American history. On this block, we have the Allen AME Church being restored, the Firehouse Museum, and the Franklin Street Library and Center for Community Arts. The Harriet Tubman Museum and Stephen Smith House are behind this building and together offer residents and visitors a different glimpse of our proud history", Mayor Mullock said.
“This is another step in the Library Commission’s work to build a new, state-of-the-art library to serve the residents of the County for many years to come. More importantly, this is about the children and providing them with a library that will serve them well into the future,” said Chairman William Hutchinson.
The restored historic building will serve as the Cape May branch of the Cape May County Library system and will replace the facility located on Ocean Street. A portion of the building will also house the Center for Community Arts (CCA), one of the leading proponents of this project. Their research, support, and dedication were integral in securing grant funding to move the project forward.
"We have been looking at this building for more than 20 years and never gave up on our vision to make this a community center for people to gather, engage, and learn about the arts and history of the area. It is because of all our work that we are here today to break ground and thank all those who made this happen," said David Mac Kenzie, Executive Director of CAA.
This project is supported by funds from the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act, administered by the New Jersey State Library. The Cape May County Library Commission applied to the State Library for funding in mid-2020 and was awarded $3.447 in November 2020. The Commission awarded the contract for construction in August 2022 and construction will begin with the anticipated completion date of December 2023. The state funding is being supplemented by equal local contributions from the County of Cape May, the Library Commission, and the City of Cape May. Also contributing to the cost of the project are the National Park Service’s African-American Civil Rights Historic Preservation Fund and the New Jersey Historic Trust.
"This is an exciting day for the City of Cape May, the Library Commission, the Cape May County Board of County Commissioners, as well as the residents of Cape May. Being here today is an honor and a tribute to our dedication to this project and our ability to work together to repurpose this historic building and fill the community's needs with a state-of-the-art library and community center. With all projects, public input is important and we can't thank our residents enough for their input in this project. The Library Commission has been working diligently to update all of our libraries in the County to become more relevant to better serve our residents. Their hard work has paid off," said Commissioner E. Marie Hayes, liaison to the Cape May County Library.
Commissioner Director Gerald M. Thornton was unable to attend the groundbreaking and has been a strong supporter of the project since its inception. "It is not often we have the opportunity to preserve a historic building and create a state-of-the-art library at the same time. The public partnership with Cape May, the Library Commission, and the County, coupled with the grant funding is a win/win for the residents. This would not have happened without the vision and hard work of our leaders and residents. I offer my sincere gratitude to everyone who made this possible, this project will allow us to showcase the importance of African-American influence on this County. This will be a true learning center that will meet the needs of all of our citizens well into the future while preserving our past," Thornton added.
The Historic Franklin Street School was built in 1927 as a segregated elementary school and closed in 1948 when New Jersey amended its Constitution to prohibit school segregation. The school is now designated as a New Jersey African-American Historic Site.
Photo L-R Michael Garaguso,General Contractor, Michael Calafati, County Commissioner E. Marie Hayes, David Mac Kenzie (Ex. Dir. CCA), William Hutchinson (Library Commission Chair), Councilman Shaine Meier, Mayor Zack Mullock, Andrea Orisini,(Director, Cape May County Library, Emily Dempsey (CCA), Councilwoman Lorriane Baldwin, Councilman Michael Yeager