Catholic schools in area look to expand

Monday, September 22, 2008
Southeast Missouri file photo Notre Dame Regional High School is one of two local Catholic schools looking to expand.

Two Cape Girardeau Catholic schools are looking to expand.

St. Mary Cathedral School launched a campaign this week to raise money for larger classrooms, an expanded library and an updated science lab.

Notre Dame Regional High School hopes to break ground next summer to expand its cafeteria into an auditorium and add a second gym.

In both cases, cost estimates are around $4 million, although the St. Mary expansion project includes extensive work to its church and could be up to $5 million. Starting of the projects will depend on fundraising success.

Local educators were unsure how private schools would fare this year. Nationally, education experts predicted a decline in enrollment due to a souring economy. But some local educators expected to see an increase as more public schools were identified as failing under the No Child Left Behind Act.

St. Mary's enrollment remained the same, with 256 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and administrators do not anticipate large increases in the future. Renovation plans are designed more to create additional space for existing students than to accommodate future pupils.

"Our biggest need is larger classroom sizes. We'd like to get classrooms that would be large enough for students, computers, and various activities. Current rooms were built in a time when those things were not really necessary and students were in their desk all day. Things have changed," principal Carol Strattman said.

She said a majority of the classrooms date back to 1912 or 1937. Under plans drawn by Kirby-Smith Associates, new classrooms would be built and attached to the current building. The existing school would be renovated to hold auxiliary classes such as art or music. Art is currently held in the cafeteria.

Other planned improvements include making the school more handicap accessible, installing new heat and air conditioning systems, adding a locker room to the gym and building a nurse's station.

"We started planning for this probably five years ago with parish surveys and strategic planning for future," said Dick Dirnberger, co-chairman of the capital fund campaign. Depending on funding, he said the church and school could possibly have to be completed in phases, but he expects the school would be tackled first. Renovations to the church include enlarging the sanctuary, increasing seating, adding a room for Bible study, replacing the furnace and air-conditioning systems, and completing duct and electrical work.

At Notre Dame, enrollment increased from 500 last year to 512 this year, according to principal Brother David Migliorino. When he came to the school in 1999, enrollment was 380.

Students from as far as Sikeston, Charleston, Mo., and Illinois have started attending, he said.

Plans for expansion include adding 21,000 square feet for a second gym/multipurpose area and 14,000 square feet for an expanded "cafetorium."

In the cafetorium, an orchestra pit, 720 retractable theater seats, and classrooms for art, speech and drama will be added. Acoustics, which have been a problem area since the school opened in 1998, will be upgraded.

In addition to the second gym, more office space, a technology lab, a conference room and a health classroom are anticipated. Phillip Smith of Cape Girardeau is the architect.

Migliorino said a second gym is necessary because with six basketball teams — three levels for both genders — practices often go late into the night.

335-6611, extension 123

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