UPPER TOWNSHIP — At the request of the Historical Preservation Society, Township Committee on March 12 gave its support to creating a museum in the building that once served as the township’s high school and Township Hall.
Members of the historical society had sought an unambiguous endorsement of their proposal to open a township museum in the building on Mount Pleasant Avenue, which they said is a necessary step in seeking county funding for the museum, but as recently as January, Mayor Rich Palombo said the township had not yet decided on a use for the building.
Work was set to begin on asbestos removal and remediation for the building Monday, township engineer Paul Dietrich said. Earlier this year, the township approved spending about $38,000 to clear asbestos from the building. Dietrich indicated work should be completed by the next Township Committee meeting March 26.
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By that time, Dietrich said, the building will have likely been inspected by the state Department of Community Affairs and declared free of asbestos contamination. He said the 110-year-old building is in good shape structurally, although some work would be needed before it could be used by the public.
On March 12, the committee voted unanimously to have a resolution prepared for that meeting supporting the museum plan. Committeeman Edward Barr pushed for the vote to go forward. Committeeman Hobie Young argued the historical society had done its due diligence, including investigating the operation and staffing of other small museums in the area.
“They’ve spent a substantial amount of time already,” said Young. “I think what they’re looking for is some positive feedback from this board before they put in any more time.”
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“I have no problem with it,” said Palombo. “We as a committee, as far as I recall, have been hesitant because we wanted to see exactly where we were and we wanted to abate the issues with asbestos before we committed to going forward.”
Committeeman John Coggins suggested exploring the possibility of federal grants to help with the renovation and preservation of the building. The historical society is set to put $10,000 toward architect’s fees.
“I can’t thank you gentlemen enough. This is going to be a wonderful asset for the township,” said Robert Holden during the public comment portion of the meeting. Holden is the chairman of the historical society’s museum committee, and one of several society members who attended Monday’s meeting.
The township’s support will clear the way for the society to apply for funds from the Cape May County Open Space Board to create the museum. The society plans to use it as a showcase for local artifacts that have been donated over the years, and to explain local history to visitors and residents.
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People have lived in the Upper Township region for hundreds of years, with evidence of Native American presence before European colonization. The first European settlers came in the late 17th century, and the township itself was founded before the American Revolution.
Holden told Township Committee members the society has heard from other residents who have information to share or items they would like to donate to a future museum.
“We have so many things that are hiding away. Eventually they will be able to be seen,” he said.
The red brick building has been vacant for years. It was originally built in 1908 as a high school, a use that continued until Ocean City High School was built in 1924. It served as Township Hall from the 1950s until the new Township Hall at 2100 Tuckahoe Road in Petersburg was completed in 1994, according to township Administrator Scott Morgan.
It’s on an out-of-the-way route near the township dog park, close to the downtown area of Tuckahoe.
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At a recent meeting, members of the Greater Tuckahoe Merchants Association addressed Township Committee about the possibility of increasing the number of special events in the retail area. On Monday, Young suggested a renovated building could help the area, where parking and access to public bathrooms have both been limiting factors.
The building is a short distance from the start of Tuckahoe’s historic downtown.
Near the end of the meeting, Palombo apologized for how long it took for the township government to sign on to the plan, saying in addition to the asbestos issue, it had to look at other potential uses for the building.