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Chester County Press

Oxford Area Historical Association plans to purchase former Union School building

03/07/2023 03:27PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Oxford Borough Council started their meeting on Feb. 27 with a moment of silence for James Garland Owen Sumner, Jr. who was well known and beloved in the Oxford community. Sumner served on Borough Council and the Oxford School Board, tutored and mentored students at the Oxford schools, was a trustee at Lincoln University and delivered Meals on Wheels for over 25 years. He was also a driving force in building the local Democratic Party. He had a beautiful voice that many heard at various events and functions at the Oxford Presbyterian Church. His passing leaves a huge hole in this community. Borough Council members expressed their deepest condolences to his wife, large extended family, and many friends.

Krys Sipple, the executive director, and Carolyn Hess, a board member, spoke on behalf of the Oxford Area Historical Association (OAHA)  to the Oxford Borough Council about plans for a new home for the organization.

OAHA had previously written to the borough to ask for a distribution of ARPA funds in order to purchase the old Union School Building at S. Fifth and Hodgson Streets in town—this is the old school district administration building. OAHA has outgrown the space they are currently in, and they have been looking for new space for several years.  

The building has already been renovated to include an accessible entrance ramp, handicapped bathrooms, a full-building HVAC system and generator, so it would require very few alterations to make it an ideal location for OAHA. The building would allow them to consolidate their extensive collections into one space that is accessible to the public. There would also be space for volunteers to work, local residents to conduct research, college students to pursue internships, and school children to tour. It is located directly next to Jordan Bank Elementary School, and with Penn's Grove Middle School nearby, this location would be ideal for working on joint projects with students. A 40-space parking lot and a small side yard are included with the building, which would allow OAHA space for outdoor displays and events.  

On Friday, Feb. 24, OAHA signed an agreement of sale for the Union School building, and attached to it is a very affordable five-year lease that will allow the OAHA the time to raise money to purchase the building. They will be starting a capital campaign to raise funds for the building, and Philip Sapp and April Herr have agreed to be the campaign co-chairs. OAHA is now starting to reach out to other members of the community for their help with the campaign, and will be doing a public announcement in the near future.  

The Oxford Area Historical Association is passionately dedicated to the conservation of Oxford and the surrounding townships. Their geographical focus is on the entire area covered by the Oxford Area School District. They present monthly programs on a variety of historical topics, record oral histories of longtime Oxford residents, organize walking tours, co-sponsor reenactment programs in the school district, and arrange trips to historical sites. The OAHA archives collection is currently housed at 140-142 Locust St. in downtown Oxford, with other historical objects stored in two climate-controlled storage units. They have been limited in the materials they can accept from residents who wish to preserve area history because of space restrictions.  

OAHA hopes that the Oxford Borough Council will be willing to give a financial contribution toward this building campaign, whether that is through their ARPA funds or another avenue. ARPA stands for The American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021. It provides for the distribution of federal fiscal recovery funding to states, tribal governments, metropolitan cities, counties, and non-entitlement units (NEUs) of local governments, which generally have populations below 50,000.

OAHA is so much more than a collection of old things—the organization collects stories about the area. The potential purchase of the Union School Building would be transformational for the organization, allowing it to extend the work that is done to create a strong sense of community in the greater Oxford area through stories of shared history.  

Borough Council listened intently to OARA’s request. The property was previously owned by PC Scales and was renovated extensively under their ownership, while leaving the historic character outside virtually intact. As such, it would require few alterations by OARA.

This facility would serve as a “Gateway to Chester County,” continuing to preserve the rich history of Chester County, especially the southern part.

Borough Council held their first ACOLA (Advisory Council of Latino Affairs) meeting before the regularly scheduled council meeting. The council room was filled with a diverse group eager to begin the next step in the formation of the ACOLA.

Sara Dickens-Trillo, the director of operations for Mighty Writers attended the meeting and was very encouraged by council’s plan to reach out and welcome the Latino community and to encourage them to have a voice in the local government.

On Jan.  23, Borough Council unanimously approved a motion to appoint Raul Juarez-Lara Jr. to Borough Council to fill a seat left vacant when Mary-Laura Buchner-Hulse resigned. Appointing Raul Juarez-Lara, Jr. was a much-hoped for outcome.

The formation of the ACOLA is moving forward and is another sign of progress.

Dickens- Trillo told council, “We are encouraged that you want to let the Latino community know that you support them. They need someone like Raul here. They want to feel welcome.”

She continued, “Creating downtown events that work with the Latino community is a great place to start. Establishing an ACOLA where the Latino community can verbalize their needs is also very important.”

Borough Manager Pauline Garcia-Allen added, “We need to have the Latino community involved in the Active Transportation Community.”

One suggestion at the meeting was the need for a cultural center in Oxford. A meeting with the ACOLA group in Kennett is also being planned.

The next ACOLA meeting is scheduled for March 20.

In other business, Police Chief Sam Iacono updated council on the accreditation process which includes police policies and continued structural work to the facility.

Iacono told council that Officer Cruz would be sent to Impact Driving School. She will then be teaching students about hazards to be aware of when driving, about respecting other people on the road, and how to conduct oneself when pulled over by the police.

The total police involvements for the month of January was 769, Iacono reported.

Mayor Phil Harris said that construction in the basement of the police building is moving along. There was also a meeting at the station with officers regarding dealing with the issue of communication and the radios. They are also working of teen driving before the prom.

Borough solicitor Stacey Fuller updated council regarding their handling of right-to-know requests. She informed council that the Moran Development planning meeting will resume on March 29.  A request for an extension on the Ware development plan has also been granted. Fuller also said contract negotiations with Comcast continues.

Council approved the following at the meeting:

  • Acceptance of Civil Service Resolution #2023-001 regarding the eligibility list for the position as patrol officer for the Borough of Oxford.
  • Approval of Resolution #1352-2023 confirming the appointment of William Fitzpatrick to Oxford Borough Council
  • Approval of Resolution #1353-2023 confirming the appointment of Raul Juarez-Lara, Jr. to Oxford Borough Council 
  • A curb waiver request for 25 S. 5th Street.

SLUG: Union school building