MARIETTA — On Monday, Marietta residents and members of historic preservation groups applauded the announcement that the Lemon Street Grammar School building will not be demolished, as part of changes to Superintendent Grant Rivera’s plan for a new central office.
The plan does propose the demolition of the former school’s annex building.
Prior to school integration in the 1960s, Marietta’s black student population attended Lemon Street Grammar School before heading across the street to Lemon Street High School. The high school building was razed in 1967. The grammar school closed in 1972 and has since been used for storage.
Rivera announced plans in March to construct a replica Lemon Street High School as the school district’s new central office on the former high school campus at 353 Lemon St. The proposal also called for a new board room, community space and museum at the Lemon Street Grammar School site, along with possible improvements to the Marietta Performance Learning Center next door to the proposed central office.
The replica Lemon Street High School will still be built at 353 Lemon St. under the district’s new plans, but it, not the grammar school, will hold the board meeting room, community space and museum, according to Rivera. He said the exact size of the office is not yet known.
Rivera said the Lemon Street Grammar School will be renovated and restored for use as the new Marietta Performance Learning Center, a program designed to help students graduate on time. The existing PLC will be demolished, and a parking lot will replace it, he said.
Rivera said after “careful study” and conversations with architects and historic preservation groups, including Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society and Kennesaw State University’s Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books, he decided the school could be renovated, instead of leveled and rebuilt.
The building is slated to open as the new home of the PLC in 2021, he said.
“We have always known, due to its unique history, that the building was worth saving. The question was whether we could afford to save the building while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Rivera said, adding that the district will do both by saving the school building.
Rivera said the grammar school building will now return to its intended use: educating Marietta’s students.
“We intend to utilize the existing 16,000 square feet building to establish 12 to 14 classrooms, (a) cafeteria and staff offices. Classrooms will include 21st century technology, equipped with interactive panels, student Chromebooks and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) resources,” Rivera said.
The building will also house a small exhibit “telling the story of the building,” he said. The museum, on the other hand, will explore the history of Marietta City Schools from 1892 to present, including the days of segregation, he said.
On Tuesday, Rivera will recommend that the school board give its blessing for the updated project, which he said will authorize the district to move forward in hiring architects and engineers to start planning. He said costs for the entire project are not yet known, but the district intends to use money from the sale of the Allgood Elementary property and central Howard Street office, as well as money from an $8.5 million building fund.
He also said, because the grammar school renovation plans will include classrooms, the renovations may be eligible for money from a special, voter-approved 1% sales tax for education. If not, Rivera said, the building fund will cover any renovation expenses.
Felecca Wilson Taylor, 72, a lifelong resident of Marietta, said she fought long and hard to have the grammar school building saved. Wilson Taylor, whose mother the school’s Hattie Wilson Library was named after, said Rivera’s announcement is welcome in a culture of “raze and pave.”
“It’s push it over (and) build something new. If it falls over, push it over again and build something new that looks like what we had, rather than renovate it,” she said. “The fact that the building is going to be saved is great and that the new building is going to replicate the old high school is even better.”
Wilson Taylor said she would have liked to see an entire building dedicated as a museum but understands the district has to use taxpayer money as efficiently as possible.
Rivera said he also plans to recommend that the district approve a formal agreement for with KSU to develop the museum. That contract will cost the district $48,400 and include fees for curatorial, research, oral history, design and project management services. Rivera said the contract will be paid for with donations.
Catherine Lewis, assistant vice president of KSU’s Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books, said the grammar school serves as an “anchor in the community,” and a decision to tear it down would also “tear the fabric of a community apart.”
“The idea of preserving this school ... is a win-win for everyone,” Lewis said. “If you live in this community and you went to that school, you get to see it sort of revitalized. If you’re new to the community, you really come to know the significance of the history.”