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The Franklin Street School renovation project receives federal grant

The exterior of the Franklin Street School | Photo by Jessica Leeburg

We have some good news to share amid the world chaos: Earlier this month, the Franklin Street School renovation project received a $500,000 grant from the African American Civil Rights Grant Program. The program is funded by the Historic Preservation Fund, which is administered by the National Park Service. Franklin Street School is one of 51 projects funded. 

If you’re wondering what the Franklin Street School is, here’s some context: The two-story brick school was built in 1928 as an elementary school for African American students, who had previously been educated in the dilapidated Annex—the previous white elementary school. Franklin Street School sits on a piece of land formerly owned by the Macedonian Baptist Church, which sold the land to the city for the school’s construction. The neighboring church and its parish house are still standing. The parish house will open later this year as the Harriet Tubman Museum.

After a change to the NJ state constitution banned overt segregation in schools in 1947, the Franklin Street School closed. The building wasn’t used consistently in following decades, sometimes sitting vacant, and fell into disrepair. 

In the ‘90s, the newly formed Center for Community Arts successfully worked to get the Franklin Street School designated as a New Jersey African American Historical Site. Since 2002, they have leased and rehabilitated the building with the hopes of it becoming a cultural center showcasing local African American history. But in spite of raising $700,000 in grants, matching funds have been hard to come by. 

This new grant money joins funds from the County, Library Commission, and the City, which have each committed $2 million to renovating the school. The plan is to convert it into a library and community center, equipped with technology, multi-purpose rooms, a demo kitchen, and a mezzanine. Work is supposed to kick off in 2021. 

Read more about the history of the Franklin Street School