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Grants to be Sought for Former Roxbury Schoohouse Rehab
Grants to be Sought for Former Roxbury Schoohouse Rehab
Grants to be Sought for Former Roxbury Schoohouse Rehab

Published on: 03/20/2023


ROXBURY, NJ – The former Lafayette School building in Lower Berkshire Valley is a rarity in New Jersey, and its uniqueness might help Roxbury secure grant money to preserve it, said township Manager John Shepherd.

Having struggled for a decade to find a tenant for the vacant 102-year-old schoolhouse on Mill Road, the township is now hoping a long-needed, comprehensive restoration will make the building more attractive on the real estate market.

Prior to this time last year, Roxbury thought it had the problem solved: The Canal Society of New Jersey (CSNJ) was going to buy the building and turn it into its headquarters. However, the CSNJ changed its mind in March 2021 and backed out of the plan.

However, during the negotiations with the CSNJ, Roxbury used Morris County Historic Preservation Trust and New Jersey Historic Trust grant money to fund a “Conditions Assessment Report” for the structure. The report "provides the basis for the planned preservation restoration,” Shepherd wrote in a recent memo to the Roxbury Mayor and Council.

Additionally, using other grant money, the township got the schoolhouse added to the state and national registers of historic places, a move that should help when it comes to securing more grants for restoration, according to Shepherd.

State and county grant agencies are likely to give the Lafayette School high ranking because its “rarity as one of only two similar 2-room school buildings in New Jersey,” reasoned the manager.

The structure - made with thick, cast-in-place concrete walls covered with a rubble stone veneer - was last used as a school building more than 60 years ago

“While the township still has an opportunity to partner with a non-profit organization for ultimate use of the building, the township is faced with the ongoing decline of the building, which has not received meaningful investment in many years,” Shepherd said in the memo.

Historically Accurate Looks, Modern Upgrades

The township will first apply to the state for grant money and later to the county. About $1.136 million is needed.

“The plan will be to restore the exterior and first floor of the building accurately, to reflect its original 1920s aesthetic, but with modern conveniences such as restrooms, HVAC and kitchen facilities,” Shepherd wrote. He said the basement would be renovated to include restrooms, storage areas and access for the handicapped.

First to be restored would be the exterior, a job estimated to cost about $355,000. It will cost about $781,000 to do the interior, according to the manager, who plans to submit the application to the state by April 19.

“The ultimate use of the building will depend on whether the township plans to maintain ownership of the building or, at some future date, decides to sell or lease the property to a non-profit organization,” Shepherd told the council. “If ownership is maintained by the township, I envision the historically restored first floor being used for community events, neighborhood meetings and possibly some limited recreation programs. The basement floor can be utilized for limited office space as well as storage for the surrounding park property or other township needs.”

While Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee and others on the council said razing the structure looms as a possibility, they said that would happen only if the township continues to fail in finding a way to preserve the building and put it to good use.

In his memo, Shepherd said the Lafayette School is worth the effort involved in trying to save it from the wrecking ball.

“Ultimately, if the township is successful in obtaining grant funds to restore the Lafayette School, not only will it return a center of community pride to the residents of Lower Berkshire Valley, but it will also preserve a significant piece of Roxbury, New Jersey and American history for future generations to enjoy,” he wrote.

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Author :Fred J. Aun

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