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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Historic School Moves Closer to Becoming a Library

By Vince Conti

CAPE MAY – The plan to renovate the historic Franklin Street School in Cape May as a branch of the county library system, took a significant stride forward at the Nov. 6 Cape May City Council meeting, when Council member Zack Mullock said he felt “comfortable” with the shared services agreement recently approved by freeholders and the county Library Commission (http://bit.ly/2WUSee1).
The plan calls for a $6 million rehabilitation of the facility, with the cost shared equally among the county, the Library Commission, and the city. Council introduced a bond ordinance in October (http://bit.ly/32kWRiF). It passed 3 to 2. To adopt the bond ordinance, scheduled for the next council meeting (Nov. 18), four members of council must support it.
Council members Mullock and Stacey Sheehan voted no when the ordinance was introduced. It appears that Mullock will support the $2 million bond ordinance, saying that he voted no on the introduction because the shared services agreement had not yet been signed by the county entities.
Cape May County Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, who was in attendance, said it would be a “mistake to let this opportunity pass by.” She talked of touring the historic building that had served as a school for black students in days when segregation was the rule.
“I felt something when I walked into that building,” Hayes said. “It needs to be preserved.”
County Library Director Andrea Orsini spoke of the library system’s commitment to the project. She sought to dispel any concern that the new library would not provide enough space for a community center.
Deputy Mayor Patricia Hendricks said, “Modern libraries are, by their nature, community centers.” Hendricks spoke of programmatic efforts that could be supported in the expanded space.
Another player in the project is the Center for Community Arts (CCA). Executive Director David Mackenzie reminded council that CCA had already invested $700,000 into the building’s infrastructure, with the possibility that an additional $600,000 in grant funds may follow.
The city ordinance to be voted on is designed to allow the municipality to contribute its $2 million share of the project, but efforts are underway to seek grant funds to offset what would otherwise be taxpayer dollars.
Some opposition to the plan for the Franklin Street School has arisen from larger concerns for the use of space along Franklin Street. These concerns tie the library project in with a proposed public safety building.
A lack of certainty on the total capital expenditures for the combined projects, the potential loss of parking spaces and the future fate of the city’s Fireman’s Museum have made it difficult for city officials to move one agenda item separately from the others.
While disagreement exists on the public safety building plans, it appears council has the votes to move forward on the Franklin Street School. One last hurdle for the project could be the required public hearing to be held before any vote to adopt the ordinance.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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