KSU professor and historian Tom Scott, left, and Lemon Street Heritage Group members Pearl Freeman, center, and James Dodd, right, stand during discussion on the Marietta School District’s proposal for a new central office at the former Lemon Street High School site. / Thomas Hartwell

MARIETTA — The Marietta school board this week gave seven thumbs up to Superintendent Grant Rivera’s proposal to begin site planning for a new central office where Lemon Street High School once stood.

The proposal calls for a central office identical to Lemon Street High, a new board room, community space and museum to replace the current Lemon Street Grammar School across the street, and possible improvements to the Marietta Performance Learning Center, next door to the central office.

It remains unclear at this point what the new central office complex will cost or how the district will pay for it. Rivera has said the cost would be offset by selling the existing central office Howard Street property and a portion of the Allgood Elementary School property. He said the district also has $8.5 million in a building fund, which could be used for the proposed project.

The “desired opening” for the facility is July 2021, Rivera said.

Prior to school integration in the 1960s, Marietta’s black student population attended Lemon Street Grammar School and Lemon Street High School, across the street. The high school building has since been razed, but the grammar school building remains.

Rivera’s public introduction of the plan this week was met with overwhelming support from members of the Lemon Street Heritage Group, many of whom are former students of the Lemon Street schools.

Pearl Freeman, member of the Lemon Street Heritage Group and former Lemon Street High student, said the announcement of the board’s intentions to move ahead with site planning is a “historical moment for us.”

“I’m excited. You would think somebody gave me a million dollars,” Freeman said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting for this. I’m excited because, when they bring the plans back, hopefully it’s going to be a replica of the outside of the Lemon Street (high school building). It meant so much to us. We were the only black high school in Marietta.”

Freeman said she understands, for the grammar school, there could be some deviation from early plans. But she said the inclusion of a museum and certain artifacts will restore the site from its current state of disrepair.

James Dodd, former member of both the Marietta school board and city council, said he attended all 12 years of school at Lemon Street. Dodd said he remembered returning from the military to find the high school had been demolished.

“I was devastated,” he said. “My kids don’t have any idea what it looked like. If now the facade is going to be something similar to the front of the old Lemon Street High … this is going to be a tremendous value for them and the community. It’s history.”

Board members were unanimous in their decision to approve preliminary planning for the site, and told the MDJ the new central office and other facilities would be a win-win for the district and community, honoring history and improving operational efficiency.

“I support the Lemon Street project because it is an opportunity to honor the full history and heritage of Marietta City Schools. The Lemon Street school story is an important part of the history of the district and we have an opportunity to fully relay that story to our entire community and to honor and highlight the experiences of those alumni who attended or taught at the Lemon Street schools,” said school board member Angela Orange. “We will also be improving the neighborhood. Instead of a building that is falling down, we will have a new one the community can be proud of.”

Orange added that improvements to the Performance Learning Center and location of the new central office next door will help PLC students and staff “feel more integrated into the district.”

Board member Kerry Minervini said she loved the idea of a museum “showcasing the history of Lemon Street” in the building that will house the board meeting room. She said it will offer students more opportunities to learn about the history of the district. She also echoed Orange in her comments about the Performance Learning Center and suggested that the new office’s proximity to Marietta Square could lead to “increased opportunities for those businesses.”

Board member Allison Gruehn said she is proud that the school district is using the opportunity to redevelop the Lemon Street schools site in a way that avoids the common regret of dismantled history.

“During our city’s history there are examples of historically significant buildings and/or land being redeveloped. Oftentimes those decisions are regrettable,” Gruehn said. “This is an opportunity to honor the uniqueness of Lemon Street and its many contributions to our city and our school system.”