Friday, January 14, 2000

Student body makes best of makeover

St. Mary working to stay modern

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        St. Mary School is wedged into a cluttered piece of Hyde Park property, flanked by the church, an old convent and a parking lot. So when school principal Jane Welling announced the school's plan to expand, parishioners understandably asked, “Where?”

        With the school yard now strewn with lumber, concrete blocks, wooden scaffolding and a crane, parishioners have their answer.

        “It's as ugly as sin right now,” Mrs. Welling said. “But it will be a combination win-win situation for the school and the parish.”

        The expansion is a $3 million project that will upgrade St. Mary's outdated facilities. The building, erected in 1923, operates at 94% capacity and is still large enough to house the school's 540 students.

        But the desire to renovate school buildings that have had three generations of students pass through their doors and the need to accommodate Internet technology are the main factors behind a mini-boom in area Catholic-school construction, said Sister Kathryn Ann Connelly, the superintendent of Cincinnati Archdiocesan Schools.

        Other schools in the diocese that have undergone or are slated for renovation include Our Lady of Lourdes in Westwood, St. James of White Oak, St. Martin of Tours in Cheviot and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Anderson Township.

        “A number of our schools need to be rewired because of new technologies,” Sister Connelly said. “And, of course, some of it is just good stewardship. We don't want our buildings to fall into disrepair.”

        In St. Mary's case, the renovations also allow the school to be housed in one building, instead of the three buildings students now occupy. Students walking from building to building became a safety concern in the wake of recent school shootings around the nation, Mrs. Welling said.

        “Security will be tighter,” she said. “In this day and age, everyone is thinking about security.”

        Teachers and students at St. Mary have found unique ways to cope with the constant sounds of drilling and hammering, as well as the construction mess in front of the school.

        In the fall, some of the school's junior high students painted the construction bar riers that line the front walk. They covered them with paintings of religious symbols and scenes from different classes such as math and fine arts.

        And in December, St. Mary first-graders donned hard hats and posed for a picture in front of the construction site. The photograph was used on the school's Christmas card.

        The addition and renovation should be complete in time for the opening of the 2000-01 school year. And for some students at St. Mary, that day can't come soon enough.

        Luke Keller, 10, is a fifth-grader who is already looking forward to the installation of the school's new elevator.

        “The eighth-graders have the heaviest backpacks and they have to walk up three flights of steps,” he said.


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