Catholic schools are building for the future


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

(Editor’s note: Three capital improvement projects are currently underway at Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport. Holy Trinity Catholic Ele­mentary School in West Point and Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City embarked on campaigns in January, while St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport just completed the first phase of a capitol campaign to remodel and renovate the worship space in the church and to address building needs of the Catholic school.)

West Point elementary to build modern facility

Donning hard hats and holding toy tools, kindergartners marched through the Holy Trinity Elementary School gymnasium in West Point as a recording of “Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go” played in the background.

Lindsay Steele
Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School Campaign Chairperson Dennis Menke accepts a donation of $400 from kindergartner Cade Wilson on behalf of teachers, staff members and students from Holy Trinity Catholic Schools on Jan. 30 in West Point.

Students, teachers, staff and supporters hope that real construction workers will be on school grounds this summer to demolish an outdated section of the campus and build a modern elementary school wing.

On Jan. 30, the school kicked off a $6 million campaign to bring the aging campus up to modern standards, preparing the 170-year school system for future generations of students.

“This is the beginning of a journey that has been dreamed of and wished and prayed for over a long time,” said Michael Sheerin, principal of Holy Trinity Catholic Schools.

At present, the elementary campus is a labyrinth of different buildings sections. Kindergarten- through third-grade students occupy the 140-year-old west building. The older elementary students occupy the east wing, which is made up of four sections of varying ages. Between the two wings is a gymnasium built in the 1950s. “I have to have the kids lead me around when I’m over there,” joked Father Bruce DeRammelaere, pastor of parishes in Houghton and St. James and administrator of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant. Holy Trinity’s junior/senior high school is located in nearby Fort Madison.

If campaign supporters can raise $3.6 million by the end of the school year, the east wing will be demolished and the historic west wing vacated in early summer. A new, two-story school wing will be constructed in place of the east wing before school starts again in the fall. If the goal is not met, fundraising will continue through the 2017-2018 school year.

The addition will feature modern classrooms, offices, conference rooms and a main-floor cafeteria. All elementary students will be in the same building on campus, and the Early Childhood Education program will move from St. Paul to West Point. The new building will be handicap-accessible, complete with an elevator. The gymnasium at the center of campus will remain in use. Plans for the west wing are still up in the air.

Brad Box, school board president, believes the addition will help “provide a 21st century learning environment for students, teachers and staff,” allowing teachers to utilize modern technology and teaching techniques.

Campaign Chair Dennis Menke attended the school in the 1950s and 1960s, and is proud of the long legacy of Catholic education in Lee County. He hopes high-quality Catholic education will continue in the area for years to come. Looking at the kindergartners in the front row he said, “Sixty-eight years ago, that’s where I was sitting. That’s our tradition. I want all of you to have the same opportunities I had. I believe that can only happen if we continue that Catholic tradition.”

He urged community members to “give as much time, talent and treasures as their lives can allow… this isn’t just about building a school. We are building our future.”

Iowa City-Regina to address enrollment with pre-k expansion, new classrooms

After rainstorms, Regina Catholic Education Center employees find themselves rushing to the high school gymnasium to look for roof leaks. “We’re running around with buckets” hoping to preserve the new gym floor, said Jason Dumont, who chairs Regina Board of Education’s buildings and grounds committee.
For this and other reasons, Regina supporters embarked on a capital campaign intended to improve current facilities. They kicked off the campaign Jan. 26.
One of the major elements of the campaign is expansion of the Early Childhood Center so it can accommodate more pre-kindergarten students, Dumont said. Data suggests that eight of every 10 pre-kindergarten graduates will become full-time Regina Elementary students. “They fall in love with the place,” Dumont said.

A waiting list exists for the pre-kindergarten program, but the school board has observed some smaller class sizes in the elementary and junior/senior high school over the past several years. The board believes that increasing pre-kindergarten capacity from 80 students to 125 will help.

Lindsay Steele
Tim Foley, assistant principal of Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City, looks at building plans with Regina students Ian Ochoa and Anna Martin outside the Regina Catholic Education Center cafeteria Jan. 26.

To create that space, six k-12 classrooms surrounding the pre-kindergarten area will be renovated and repurposed for the Early Childhood Center. Seven new k-12 classrooms, including a state-of-the-art science lab, will be built onto the rear side of the building.

The campaign, which has a goal of $5.99 million, raised $2.877 million during the two-month silent phase, said school board president Matt Pacha. Funds raised included a $1 million gift, several gifts of $50,000-plus, and $100,000 pledges from the University of Iowa Credit Union and Hills Bank. The support has been “impressive,” he said, noting that donors of all ages have stepped up.

Phase zero will begin when the school year ends this spring. This phase will include constructing an additional entrance and exit off First Avenue, security upgrades, roof repair, updates to the locker rooms and restrooms, and the resurfacing and expansion of the front parking lot. This work is expected to be completed by the time school resumes in the fall.

Phase one will include the expansion of the Early Childhood Education area, construction of the new k-12 classrooms and an expanded rear parking lot. Work on this project should begin in the spring of 2018 and finish by fall 2020. At that time, junior and senior high students will use a new rear entrance as their main entrance.

Additional long-term goals include a new gymnasium, renovation of the existing elementary gymnasium into an auditorium, and new athletic facilities. These projects are not part of the current campaign, as the immediate focus is on phases zero and one, organizers said. The campaign’s goals are the result of a three-year strategic planning project, Dumont said.

Feeder parishes for Regina Catholic Education Center include St. Mary, St. Wenceslaus and St. Patrick in Iowa City and St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, described the capital campaign as a means for Regina to “put its best foot forward.” He said every donation, big or small, can make a difference.

Superintendent offers support to projects

It is a very dynamic time for diocesan Catholic education. I pray that we are able to replicate the effort and great sacrifice of the people before us who built these original buildings. They have served the Catholic Community of the corresponding areas well for many years.

I pray that God will bless the leaders of these campaigns and grant them the wisdom and courage to undertake these projects. The new spaces/buildings will bring a spirit of renewal and allow our staff to continue to provide an excellent Catholic education that prepares our young people for the future that awaits them.

I pray that our young people will continue on the path to a deeper identification with Jesus Christ no matter what facility they have. These communities are demonstrating a sincere commitment to a vibrant future for Catholic education.” — Lee Morrison

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