Historic Black school in Marietta gets new life with renovation project

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Alumni of Lemon Street Grammar School worried for years if they could save the place where they forged friendships while receiving an education.

George Miller, who attended the school during the 1950s, said alumni formed the Lemon Street Heritage Group in an effort to save one of “last Black footprints” in Marietta.

“We’ve been trying for quite along time to get the school refurbished and to keep our memories going there at Lemon Street,” said Miller.

The alumni can breathe a sigh of relief now that Marietta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Grant Rivera has unveiled a plan to repurpose the historic building.

The school system has completed a $3.48 million renovation of the school, a project that wrapped up just in time for the start of Black History Month. The grammar school, along with the former Lemon Street High School, were the only places where Cobb County Black students could get an education during the Jim Crow Era.

The building is now home to the system’s Performing Learning Center, a small, non-traditional Marietta High School program that utilizes a computer-based learning format; the system’s Marietta Alternative Program for students in grades sixth through 12th; and Marietta Evening School Hours, which provides night classes three days a week for students working full-time jobs.

ExploreGwinnett County plans library and museum at former Black high school

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The project replaced all doors and windows and installed new plumbing and electrical systems, fire sprinklers and alarm systems, security systems and the technology required for the school system to operate the building. Crews also installed new asphalt, sidewalk and landscaping.

Outside, visitors by can view a historic marker and four panels that provide an overview of the origins of Black education in Marietta, the history of the Lemon Street site and Marietta’s Black community and the fight for integration.

Chuck Gardner, the district’s chief operations officer, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the district wanted the building to have the technology and tools needed to teach students in the 21st century while still being recognizable to alumni.

“We wanted it to look like Lemon Street,” he said. “It’s been a great project and a nice balance with history and making it useful for today’s kids.”

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The grammar school opened in 1951 and closed in 1970, and served all Black students in Cobb County until the district integrated in 1965. It was briefly used as a junior high school, and later served as the home of the Hattie G. Wilson Library until the county shut it down in January 2013. The school system had been using the space as a warehouse before the renovation project.

Another piece of the district’s project is to build a new central office complex across the street from the old school on the former site of Lemon Street High School, which was demolished in 1967.

The central office building will feature architecture inspired by the elements of the former high school and a museum offering an overview of Marietta City Schools from its founding in 1892 to the present. The museum will be assembled in conjunction with Kennesaw State University’s Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books. The building will also have a community meeting room and meeting space for the school board.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The office building project has been delayed due to a dip in Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue.

Clara Bates-Wingfield, who attended the grammar school and graduated in 1964 from Lemon Street High School, said she was “quite overjoyed” with the renovation project.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“We are just ecstatic to see what has happened,” she said. “I think the building is beautiful and I am hoping and praying that all of those who are thirsting for knowledge will take advantage of the school.”