Community garden to fill Camden school-owned vacant lot

What is now a half-acre of dried grass in East Camden could be transformed into a community garden by later this year.

At Tuesday night’s school board work session, Camden City Garden Club founder and Children’s Garden executive director Mike Devlin presented a plan to beautify (and yummify) a vacant plot at 29th and Cramer Streets that the Camden Board of Education has owned for more than 50 years. James Garfield School occupied the site for several decades until it burned down in 1960, according to a local historical website.

The school board will vote on leasing the land to the garden club at Tuesday’s meeting. The half-acre lot Devlin wants for the community garden is assessed at $70,000 but would be leased at a nominal rate to the nonprofit.

The lot is one of dozens around the city that the school board owns but doesn’t use. The district is currently doing a full inventory of its land and buildings, along with noting whether the deed exists (a lot of them are MIA). Findings are expected in February.

Some board members wonder whether they should sell land and buildings not in use; others – the optimistic ones – say if there’s a resurgence in Camden’s prosperity, they’d need the land (or even the buildings) for new schools.

In the meantime, more lots are on the horizon.

On Tuesday, the board approved the demolitions of the Lanning Square School at Broadway, which was damaged during last year’s earthquake, and the former H.B. Wilson School.

Camden has 116 community gardens and 25 more are planned for this year.