On Tuesday, the Marietta school board gave seven thumbs up to Superintendent Grant Rivera’s updated plans for renovations to the former Lemon Street Grammar School and construction of a new central office.
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., near the intersection of Lemon and Cole streets. The proposal also called for demolition of the former Lemon Street Grammar School and a new board room, community space and museum to be constructed at the 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.
The Lemon Street Grammar School building will need extensive renovation and restoration, Rivera said, but will be saved and when complete, will function as the new Marietta Performance Learning Center, a program designed to help students graduate on time. The restored building is expected to open in 2021, he said.
The existing Performance Learning Center at 353-B Lemon St. will be demolished and a parking lot will replace it, Rivera said.
School board Chairman Jason Waters said support for the updated project was a no-brainer. He said the grammar school has been vacant too long and will now be put to good use.
“I’m excited about it,” Waters said. “I’m excited for the Lemon Street historic community, because it honors them. But I’m excited for the existing community around there too, because it takes something where half of it was an unused building and puts a nice building in place.”
He said the newly renovated building will also serve as an excellent “education space” for the students of the Performance Learning Center.
Rivera said the board’s approval allows the district to move forward in the search for an architect and construction manager. He said he is excited to get started on the project, which will begin with the grammar school renovations.
“The board unanimously approved our vision to honor both the history of Marietta City Schools and Lemon Street. We’re eager to get started with the next phase of planning,” Rivera said.
Once an architect and construction manager are recommended to and approved by the board, formal designs and cost estimates for the central office construction and grammar school renovations can be determined.
Because the renovation plans now include use of classrooms, Rivera said the grammar school portion of the Lemon Street project will be eligible for money from a special 1% sales tax for education, approved by voters in 2017. The rest of the project will be covered by the sale of property, including the district’s central office at 250 Howard St., as well as money from an $8.5 million building fund, according to Rivera.
The school board also unanimously approved a $48,400 contract with the Kennesaw State University’s Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books for the development of the museum to be located in the new central office. The agreement will pay for curatorial, research, oral history, design and project management services, according to the board’s agenda item.
Rivera said the museum’s exhibits would open in phases over the course of 1 to 1.5 years, based on the Lemon Street campus construction phases.
The first phase, he said, is an outdoor exhibition of interpretive panels, located at the grammar school and documenting the history of the Lemon Street schools, as well as the African-American community they served. The panels would connect Lemon Street’s history to the rest of the museum space at the central office and to “walking history tours” of the area.
The main exhibition space, in the new central office lobby and board room, would include a timeline, interpretive panels and artifact cases. Rivera said Marietta High School students will work with students and researchers at KSU to collect oral histories that will be a part of the curatorial process.
A related exhibit in the Lemon Street Grammar School will also tell the history of that school and the Hattie Wilson Library that later took over the space.