Groups start plans for Nassau School

Programming important component of renovation project for 1922 Belltown building
June 16, 2023

The long-awaited renovation project of the historic Nassau School in Belltown is getting off the ground.

The school, built in 1922, was one of the 33 Black schools built in Sussex County with funding from philanthropist millionaire Pierre S. du Pont.

During the time of segregation, students attended first through eighth grade at the school near Five Points until 1965.

The school was purchased by the Delaware Department of Transportation as part of the lands of the Best family and Bests’ Ace Hardware to make way for a new access road from southbound Route 1 to a new roundabout at Plantation Road and Beaver Dam Road. The building was used for storage.

The project is a collaboration among Delaware's Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, which now owns the school, the Greater Lewes Foundation, Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and Nassau School Coalition. The four groups will work together to establish programming for the school.

Mark Chura, the Greater Lewes Foundation’s special projects director, said the foundation is under contract with the state to develop a renovation and programming plan for the school. Chura said public input is critical to the project.

“We are getting the storylines together, doing research and interviewing graduates,” he said.

Chura said the four groups will reach out to the public for more input. “The more conversations we have hopefully will take us places not thought of,” he said.

Chura said after meetings with DelDOT officials to determine road construction planned in the area, the groups are confident the school will remain at its current site. When plans were first announced, there was a movement to relocate the school to Lewes.

“There are some strong feelings about that. Keeping it where it is provides a great opportunity to tell the story of Belltown,” he said.

Research and planning

Chura said the research and planning phase will take most of 2023, with construction getting underway in the spring of 2024. However, he said, there could be some exterior work done this year. The building had a new roof put on it in July 2020.

The first phase of the project will be removal of asbestos.

“We have partial funding to renovate the school. We want to keep the historic fabric of the school intact,” he said.

Chura said bathrooms and non-related school facilities will be housed in a separate addition.

Chura said the research phase will be followed by public outreach, formulation of a final plan and then construction, which will include site work.


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