By Celine Klosterman
OSKALOOSA – Months of labor brought the blessing of improved religious education facilities to St. Mary parishioners, and Bishop Martin Amos affirmed their success when he blessed the facilities Feb. 5.
Improvements included renovations to St. Mary Church’s basement and former rectory, both of which house classes for a total of 120 students in preschool to eighth grade. The primary project was relieving water leakage and creating six permanent classrooms in the basement, which allows more students to meet in the same building in spaces appropriate for learning, said project manager Adam Webb.
Because of water issues, the basement had been used primarily for storage, with room leftover for two classes separated by folding doors. “If one class was having a loud lesson, the class right next to it could hear as clearly as if the divider wasn’t there,” said Amanda Castro, director of religious education and youth minister.
In May 2011, St. Mary’s had the basement stripped to the foundation, and rebuilding began. Contractors were hired to perform major tasks involving plumbing, electrical work, water drainage and sheetrock, and volunteers labored about 5,000 hours, Webb said. Major construction was completed in September, and the parish has been using the basement since then.
In addition to creating six classrooms with sound insulation, the parish included space for storage — St. Mary’s second-biggest need for the facility, Webb said. Other touches included a statue of Jesus with children and a refinished Communion rail that was fastened to a wall as a decoration.
The basement now includes a designated space for parishioners who are preschool and kindergarten age, Castro noted. “Especially when working with young children, it’s nice to know those classrooms won’t change. The students don’t have to worry about where they’re going.”
Each classroom includes a TV, DVD player, whiteboard and bulletin board. Teachers can decorate and personalize their space, she added.
After St. Mary’s added the classrooms, it stopped holding some religious education classes in the parish center across the street from the church. Now, students don’t have to worry about crossing a road on Sunday mornings. Freed-up space in the parish center also means adults could meet there for faith formation events while their children are in class, Castro said.
Students in grades five, seven and eight meet in the former rectory. In that building, workers created a large room for high-school students by tearing out a wall that had separated two classrooms.
Total cost of the renovations was about $200,000, Webb said. About $52,000 raised during the Davenport Diocese’s capital campaign went toward the improvements, and a project-specific campaign raised $41,000. Parish savings funded the rest of the project, he said.
“It’s a huge improvement over what we had. I think it looks fabulous.”