Marietta will renovate segregation-era school

Lemon Street Grammar School, closed in 1971, now used as warehouse

For decades, Cobb County’s black students graduated from the Lemon Street Grammar and High schools in Marietta. Now the Marietta City School Board hopes to preserve one of the schools and some of the history of the era of segregated schools.

The board on June 11 approved a proposal to renovate the existing Lemon Street Grammar School. It will house classroom space for the students enrolled in the district’s Performance Learning Center, which allows students who may have jobs or children to attend school on a flexible schedule.

The system's new central office building will be constructed across the street from the grammar school on the site where the Lemon Street High School once stood. It will feature architecture inspired by the elements of the high school building, which was demolished in 1967. It will also include a museum offering an overview of the Marietta City School system from its founding in 1892 to the present, including information on the segregation erawhich ended in 1967 when all Cobb schools were integrated. 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 Board of Education.

"We have always known, due to its unique history, that the Lemon Street Grammar School was worth saving," Marietta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Grant Rivera said in a statement. "The question was whether we could afford to save the building while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We are pleased to say that, after careful study, we will be able to do both."

The school district has not provided an estimate of the cost to renovate the grammar school and to build the new central office building. But the school system said it could pay for part of the work by selling its current central office building on Howard Street. Kimberly Blass, director of external affairs for the system, said the system can also use sales tax dollars and reserve money for the project. The cost of the museum project with KSU will be $48,400which Blass said will have to be paid for using community donations.

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Although the original school dated to the 1800s, the most recent Lemon Street High School building opened in 1930 and served as the high school for all black students in Cobb County. It closed in 1967 and was demolished after the graduation of its final class.

In 1965, shortly before city schools desegregated, Lemon Street High had 700 students, from both Marietta City and Cobb County. Before it closed in 1967, after Cobb canceled its contract for Lemon Street to educate Cobb’s black students, it was down to 350-400 students.

The existing grammar school building opened in 1951 and closed in 1971. It also served as the home of the Hattie G. Wilson Library until the county shut down its operations in January 2013. The school system has been using the grammar school as a warehouse.

“The highest and best use of this historic building is not a warehouse; it’s creating an environment to educate our kids while honoring the significance of this community,” Rivera said.

Erik Hofstetter, assistant superintendent of operations for the school system, said the next phase of the project will be for the district to begin architectural design work and to bring on a construction management firm, which will work with the school system on the two buildings. If everything goes to plan, the school system would like to have the restoration of the grammar school and construction of its central office complex done by August 2021.

Cobb Landmarks, which advocated for the school system to preserve the grammar school building and incorporate its use into its plans, said it was glad to see the school system decided against demolition.

Executive Director Trevor Beemon said as soon as they heard of the system’s initial plans, it reached out to the superintendent to consider alternatives that would keep the building in place. Beemon said the group received a lot of feedback from people who expressed concerns about losing the school building, which he said was an important landmark for Marietta’s black community.

“What they presented to us exceeded our expectations and we are excited about it,” he said, adding that it’s rare when a historic building can be preserved.

Beemon said his organization will work with the school system to document the interior of the building and possibly showcase the changes on its blog, which he said will give readers a chance to see how historic preservation works.

Felicia Taylor, who graduated from Lemon Street High School in 1964, also said she is very happy the school system will keep the elementary school building in a time when many developments rise in place of historic buildings that have been demolished.

“I’m very pleased because when you look around, every other building gets pushed over,” she said. Taylor said the exhibits will also provide younger people an opportunity to learn about the concept of segregated schools that was viewed by many as an acceptable way to receive an education.

“It would be a connection the past while pressing towards the future,” she said of the project and the exhibits.

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