Future looks brighter in Martindale-Brightwood with new library, high school, community center

Frigid temperatures did not stop Martindale-Brightwood residents from showing up in force on Tuesday morning to celebrate milestones they said represented change and progress in the struggling Indianapolis neighborhood.

It all started at 25th Street and Sherman Avenue, where dozens cheered as officials broke ground on a $5.9 million, long-awaited permanent branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. 

And then the neighbors traveled to Edna Martin Christian Center’s new campus at 22nd Street and Ralston Avenue—on previously contaminated land—where they celebrated the groundbreaking of a new KIPP charter high school and the official opening of Edna Martin’s $3 million Leadership and Legacy Center, which will expand the not-for-profit group’s ability to offer youth and senior enrichment programs.  

“Today is a really important day for the Martindale-Brightwood community,” said Rhonda Oliver, branch manager for the library that has been leasing space across the street from the new permanent library.

IBJ previously reported about neighborhood leaders’ goals to improve the neighborhood on their own terms. Martindale-Brightwood sits in the 46218 ZIP code, where more than 40 percent of people live in poverty, according to census data, the highest percentage among Marion County’s 36 ZIP codes.

The neighborhood, which was once a working-class community aided by the rail industry, started declining after World War II when the railroads relocated. It faced another blow in the 1960s and 1970s when Interstates 65 and 70 were built to ring downtown, physically splitting the neighborhood. 

“Regardless of the trauma Martindale-Brightwood has experienced, we are a community of resilience,” said resident Gina Lewis, who is executive director of the Oasis Christian Community Development Corp.

The library groundbreaking at 2434 N. Sherman Drive follows years of advocacy from Martindale-Brightwood residents who lobbied to get funding to build a permanent library. At 15,000 square feet, the new facility will have triple the space of the current strip-mall branch. It will host activities for children and teens, job search assistance, public access computers and community meeting space

Indianapolis Public Library CEO Jackie Nytes said Tuesday that it would not have happened without neighbors’ persistence.

“There was even a time when we weren’t so sure we were going to keep that library,” Nytes said, referring to the rental branch. “Good things are worth working for, and good things are worth waiting for. That’s what this neighborhood deserves and that’s what we’re going to deliver.”

The Edna Martin campus, which will contain the KIPP high school, has a storied history too, as the former site of a Mobil Oil fuel depot. Edna Martin purchased the property in 2015, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began a major cleanup of the property shortly after, replacing more than 14 million pounds of soil.

Edna Martin Christian Center executive director Tysha Sellers said the development is a step toward fulfilling the neighborhood’s quality of life plan and “listening to residents, businesses and those who want Martindale-Brightwood to be the best place to be.”

Along with the leadership and legacy center, Sellers also announced Edna Martin will now embark on another $2.4 million investment in the campus at 22nd and Ralston to build a “community solutions and entrepreneurship center.”

The new KIPP charter high school on the campus, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 and serve a freshman class of 125, “fills a void” in the community, Sellers said, as it previously didn’t have a high school residents could call their own.

“We want to see families grow and thrive and education is the key,” Sellers said. “What a beautiful day in Martindale-Brightwood.”

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