GEORGETOWN — Its past is a chapter rich in history.
Its future appears promising for the rejuvenation of the Richard Allen School — one of 80 schools built by philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont for African American children in Delaware — that served the Georgetown community for decades dating back to the 1920s.
Major renovation and expansion is planned by the Richard Allen Coalition, which formed to preserve the school’s history and make it a community hub as it was for many years.
The school’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday served as the formal kickoff to the capital campaign, kickstarted by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., who presented a check for $100,000 in Community Project Funding for renovations to the historic school.
“Our history is really the thing that propels us into the present and the future,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “We still have people alive that went to this school. So it wasn’t that long ago that our schools were segregated.”
Through legislation, the former school building on Railroad Avenue was deeded by the state of Delaware to the Richard Allen Coalition in 2015. That bill was sponsored by State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, and State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown.
Under the Richard Allen Coalition, the facility, which was a Black-only school during segregation and then part of the Indian River School District, has been utilized for clothing and food giveaways, feeding the homeless, monthly senior dinners and other community activities.
While some renovations and upgrades have been made, major work is the wish. Plans include a new gymnasium, according to Richard Allen Coalition President Jane Hovington.
Total project cost is estimated around $2.7 million, Ms. Hovington said.
Substantial campaign support may not end at the federal level. Potential state funding looms over the horizon courtesy of the fiscal year 2023 bond bill.
“A few years ago, when Richard Allen School was turned over, that wasn’t the end for commitment. That was the beginning,” said Rep. Briggs King. “We told Jane … we need you to make the ‘big ask.’ Tell us what you need to make the dream come true to make it a reality. I think we are getting very close to that this year in the bond bill.”
Sen. Pettyjohn said the Richard Allen Coalition is one of several hundred projects seeking funding through the Community Reinvestment Fund. In total, those requests exceed $400 million, he said.
“Once we find out from the Bond Bill Committee how much is going to be allocated to that program, we’ll go through individual projects,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “It is my intention to get a significant amount of money for the Richard Allen Coalition for their capital campaign for them to do what they are wanting to do out here at this facility.”
Sen. Pettyjohn is banking on fellow legislators to push for additional funding “because it is such a historical location. And it will serve the greater community, not just Georgetown.”
Ms. Hovington acknowledged Rep. Blunt Rochester and Georgetown’s two state legislators, Sen. Pettyjohn and Rep. Briggs King for their efforts.
“They have paved the way for the Richard Allen restoration that is coming, for all the things that are getting ready to be done,” Ms. Hovington said. “We will have a community center here because of these individuals … a place for the community to come and to share and to find a place to enjoy. We are so blessed.”
Grant funding will be used for playground equipment, Ms. Hovington said.
Rep. Blunt Rochester said the application for funding for Richard Allen School was among 150 applications for Community Project Funding that her congressional office received.
“Only 10 were able to be picked. One of the top 10 was the Richard Allen School,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester.
“What is also so important about the funding that the Richard Allen School received is that in Congress, this was a bipartisan effort both in the House and Senate, to make sure that we could use funds that come directly to our communities that do two things. Number one, meet the community needs, and number two, have community support.
“This effort, the reason why it made it out of 150 up into the top 10 was because of that bipartisan support, community support and community and historic need. Not just for Sussex County but for the state.
“This is important for the state to know that Richard Allen School existed and will exist in the future.”
The school bears the name of Richard Allen, a minister, writer and educator, who was born into slavery and later bought his freedom. He founded the first Black church in America, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1816.
In June 2015, a Delaware Public Archives marker was placed at the school location. In 2019, the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.