Officials who led efforts to preserve, renovate and expand Cape May City’s once-segregated Franklin Street School into a library and new community center will be recognized June 2 by the New Jersey Library Association.
Former Mayor Clarence “Chuck” Lear, former Deputy Mayor Patricia Hendricks, Cape May County Commissioner E. Marie Hayes and David Mackenzie, executive director of the Center for Community Arts (CCA), are Library Champions of the Year. The award recognizes community advocacy on behalf of libraries.
They spearheaded a countywide coalition that resulted in the nearly $7 million project being funded, in significant measure, by a recent grant from the State Library Construction Bond Act.
The Cape May County Commissioners, the Cape May County Library Commission, and the City of Cape May are collaborating with each contributing one-third of the remaining $3.4 million library construction. Additional resources include a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service and the balance of a CCA grant from the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office.
The new library and community center will be housed in the Franklin Street School and adjoining gymnasium. It is an integral part of the community’s commitment to preserving the city’s rich African-American heritage.
The Franklin Street School (FSS) was built as the elementary school for African-American children in Cape May and served in this way from 1927-47 when New Jersey desegrated its schools. The building was then in decline for a long period of time. More than twenty years ago the CCA, a group of local citizens, dedicated to cultivating the arts for school children and preserving local African-American history, began an effort to renovate the building to serve as an art and community center. CCA received grants from NJ historic preservation groups and private citizens that helped stabilize the building. While progress was made, a much more extensive effort was needed.
Commissioner Hayes and Mayor Lear stood in the school building in 2017 and had the vision that it could be renovated and expanded as the city’s branch of the Cape May County Library. Both began a crusade to get the community to share their vision. The Cape May County Commissioners, led by Chairman Gerald Thornton, and the Cape May County Library Commission saw the value of such an effort. A feasibility study for the effectiveness of the FSS as a library was conducted in 2018 with costs shared by the County Commissioners, the County Library Commission, and Cape May City.
Strong advocacy efforts helped build support for the transformation of the Franklin Street School into a new library, a 16,000-square-foot facility compared with the present 4,200-square-foot Cape May City Branch of the county library. Mayor Lear and Deputy Mayor Patricia Hendricks and CCA Director David Mackenzie promoted City support for the project. Commissioner Hayes built support at the county level in her role as liaison to the County Library Commission. Andrea Orsini, county library director, was also a major catalyst in the progress of the Franklin Street School project.
Key public presentations on the proposed project were made, including a May 2019 City Town Hall meeting attended by an estimated 250 people. The majority of citizens spoke in favor of the project. At a critical Cape May City Council meeting, local citizens packed the City Hall auditorium to voice their enthusiastic support for the new library and community center. Important factors in moving the vision from concept to reality were dynamic public leadership, broad community support, the collaboration of the City, the County, and the Library Commission, and N.J. State Library Construction Bond grant.
To register to watch the NJLA Awards reception click this link: