Rebuilt school dedicated year after tornado

Monday, August 16, 2004

Just over a year after a tornado extensively damaged Immaculate Conception School, members of the Jackson community closed the door on construction Sunday.

Between 750 and 800 parishioners and community members filled the new gymnasium Sunday as Bishop John J. Leibrecht of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese led the dedication ceremony for the school's new building.

Parishioners, staff and community members have been involved in an intensive whirlwind of activity ever since a tornado tore through Jackson on May 6, 2003, principal Tami Nenninger said. Several construction and fund-raising projects were planned and carried out at a pace that had students in the new building after only one school year out of the old. During the 2003-2004 school year classes were held in modular classrooms. School begins Wednesday.

"We have the capability for so much growth in the future now," Nenninger said.

The extra space includes a music room, a library, larger classrooms and a larger gymnasium. The square footage will help accommodate 285 kindergartners through eighth-graders currently enrolled, up from 262 last school year.

The construction phase is finished, Monsignor Edward Eftink said, with the exception a few areas: The grass needs to grow, a door that sticks needs to be adjusted and the gymnasium floor will be finished during the next two weeks. Otherwise, it is miraculous the amount of work that has been completed, he said.

The Immaculate Conception "Raffle of Dreams" was the last of five major fund raisers during the construction phase. More than $110,000 was raised after expenses, with more than 3,400 tickets sold, school officials said. Winners were announced Sunday during a picnic beside the church, with prizes including 2004 models of a Chevy truck, a four-wheeler and an automatic rifle, plus a Wal-Mmart gift card.

More fund-raisers are planned to help cover the $4.2 million to $4.5 million construction cost, said Nenninger, and the next step is to settle into a regular routine.

Eleven-year-old Chris Dunning will welcome that routine. He will not miss the bus transits to the gymnasium at St. Paul Lutheran School, the alternate location for physical education, he said, nor will he miss the sound of other classes through the thin walls of modular rooms.

Sunday was the first time Dunning, his father and two brothers toured the school.

"Now that it's new, it's like going back to kindergarten for the first time," said Dunning, who attended Immaculate Conception School since kindergarten.

"It doesn't have the same memories as the old school," said seventh-grader Rachel Buchheit, "but it's still cool."

Some of her memories include when her mother danced along with other mothers of eighth-graders and the annual teacher versus students basketball games in the gym.

In all their fondness of the newer, larger gymnasium, students are unaware of one thing.

"I don't know if the kids realize that 'bigger gym' means 'more area to run,'" physical education teacher Ellen Koeper said lightheartedly. "They'll find out this week."

jmetelski@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 127

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