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Future unclear for Upper Twp. history museum - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Future unclear for Upper Twp. history museum

County Open Space Fund deems project is ineligible

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Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 11:34 am


Special to the Sentinel


TUCKAHOE — Plans to renovate the former Upper Township High School building have been found ineligible for county funding under the category of parks and recreation, which could scuttle a proposal for a township historic museum in the building. 

Township officials are still weighing options for both the building and the museum proposal, according to township engineer Paul Dietrich, but for the time being, elected officials are not willing to spend $1.6 million to $2 million needed to reopen the long-vacant building on Mounty Pleasant Avenue. 

According to Cape May County planning director Leslie Gimeno, the township had completed a draft application to the county Open Space Fund for help covering the renovation costs. She said she met with representatives of the township and of the Historic Preservation Society of Upper Township in the pre-application process. 

“As we found out additional details about the proposal, we determined that is was not eligible for park and recreation funding,” Gimeno said Tuesday, Dec. 3. 

The Historic Preservation Society of Upper Township hoped for space in a renovated building to create a museum where the organization could display an extensive collection of local artifacts, including some dating from long before the first Europeans settlers arrived. 

Members of the museum committee are extremely upset, according to Robert Holden, a member of the Historic Preservation Society who has been working on the project along with other members of the museum committee. He said they have worked on the application for more than four years. 

He does not agree that a museum would not be considered recreation. 

Dietrich called the situation unfortunate. 

“We’re looking at potential alternative locations of the museum,” he said. “The cost to do that rehabilitation process is just more than Township Committee wants to spend at this point.” 

A new building could be a less expensive option, he said, but that would take more research. He said the township is looking at several sites where it owns property but did not want to get more specific at this point. 

“Ultimately, the committee is going to have to make a decision about what it wants to do,” he said. “We’re evaluating different township property to see where would be the best location.” 

According to Gimeno, the township could still apply for a county grant for historic preservation. 

“It may be possible. I would need more information on the building itself,” she said. 

Built in 1908, the red brick building served as a high school before the sending district arrangement was reached with Ocean City. Later, the building saw use as the Upper Township municipal building from the 1950s until the new Township Hall was completed in 1994. Since then, it served briefly as a railroad museum but has been vacant for at least a decade. 

According to Dietrich, it is a key structure in the Tuckahoe historic district and is likely eligible to be listed on the state registry of historic places. But he said the county’s grants for historic preservation are capped at $150,000, a fraction of what would be needed to restore the building. Dietrich said that would barely cover the exterior renovations to the building. 

The interior also needs extensive work, including bringing it up to current standards for access under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In previous interviews, Dietrich said the building itself is structurally solid, with a new roof completed in 2006. 

There may be other historic preservation grants available, he said, but those would also come with conditions, mandating a more stringent standard of historic renovations that would push the cost still higher. 

In 2018, the township approved a $38,000 contract to clean the building of asbestos. That work needed to take place before the public could be allowed in the building, according to Dietrich, but would also be required before demolition. Officials knew the asbestos had to come out in either case, he said. 

For now, there are no plans to tear the building down, Dietrich said, but without an additional source of funding, renovations are unlikely. 

Over the summer, a display of artifacts found in an archeological dig in Tuckahoe were displayed in the Upper Township branch of the Cape May County Library, including coins and implements from the Colonial period and pottery shards and arrowheads from Leni Lenape encampments dating long before the first European settlers. 

Plans were for the items to become part of a display at an Upper Township Historical Museum. Preliminary proposals call for an exhibit from each of the 10 villages in the township, along with permanent exhibits, potentially on the military, Native Americans, railroads and other topics. 

Additional members of the museum committee of the HPSUT include society President Carol Williams, Ralph Cooper, Doug Longenecker, Sonia Forry, Jerry Bailey, Mike Houdart and Linda Leonard.

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