Hundreds gathered at St. Clare Catholic School in O'Fallon on Sunday to celebrate and bless its new $4.9 million addition. The project, which included renovating the existing building, wouldn't have been possible without the support of the Catholic community in O'Fallon and Shiloh, according to Monsignor Bill Hitpas at St. Nicholas Church.
Hitpas, who serves at co-superintendent of the school with Father Jim Deiters, said St. Clare and St. Nicholas parishes in O'Fallon committed $1 million each to the project, and Corpus Christi in Shiloh contributed as well.
The community then stepped in and donated $2.7 million during a six-month fund drive, according to Hitpas. Leading the capital campaign were husband and wife Andy and Joanne Blassie.
"They personally worked extremely hard to really reach out to people in businesses and people they knew to ensure we could get to the amount we needed," Hitpas said. "They are owed a lot of gratitude from the community."
With $4.7 million in donations, the remaining $200,000 for the project was covered by a loan, according to Hitpas.
During the bless ceremony Sunday afternoon, Andy Blassie said it was a "glorious day for our school and the Catholic community of O'Fallon and Shiloh. It's truly impressive what our community has been able to accomplish," he said.
Following Blassie's remarks, Ted Shekell, planning director for the city of O'Fallon, proclaimed this week "St. Clare Catholic School Week" on behalf of O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham.
Catholic priests Hitpas, Deiters with St. Clare Parish and Monsignor James Margason with Corpus Christi each blessed the new addition with holy water, and then doves, representing the Holy Spirit, were released over the crowd gathered at the front of the school.
Students and staff at St. Clare moved into the new addition over Easter weekend last month. Principal Milissa Faust said the new 16,800-square-foot addition included a computer room, an expanded library, a science lab, two kindergarten classrooms, two fourth-grade classrooms, one fifth-grade classroom and a resource room. It also includes administrative offices, a conference room and restooms. She explained the science lab and computer room are shared spaces all the teachers at St. Clare are welcome to use.
St. Clare fifth-grader Anna Flath, 11, said she likes "getting to do experiments in the science lab."
Her mother Vicki Flath also praised the addition of the science lab. "To have a science lab in an elementary school is a unique opportunity for the kids," she said.
Anna's older brother, Nicholas Flath, a sixth-grader, described the new addition as "cool." He said his favorite part is the elevator "even though we don't get to use it." The entire school is now handicap accessible with an elevator that can access all three floors.
Hitpas said he's amazed the new addition looks so similar in appearance to the existing building. "It just really improves the look of the whole thing," Hitpas said.
Faust described the addition as "fantastic. It was a wonderful school," she said. "This just provides a better facility for our kids. It just enhances what we are already doing."
The existing building's renovation included two office spaces, two faculty work areas, a music room, an art room and a prayer space. "Moving people into the new building gave us an opportunity to do these things," she said.
St. Clare music teacher Lynn Gebhardt said she loves her newly renovated music room. "This is a much more open space with more storage," she said. "I have so much more room for activities and movement with the lower grades."
The safety of students at the school was also enhanced, Faust said, with the addition of a fire sprinkler system, installation of new door locks -- that can be locked from the inside -- and more surveillance cameras
To improve traffic flow at the school, a new concrete drive-up lane was added to the school's front side at 214 W. Third St. In order to replace the parking and play space lost in front of St. Clare, the school purchased lots on Second Street, which provided space for a new, concrete parking lot and revamped playground area.
Holland Construction Services served as the construction manager for the project, and EWR Associates Inc. provided architectural services.
Hitpas said an addition to St. Clare School was discussed off and on for the last 15 years. However, the project became more "urgent," he said, when portable units were added to the school campus to accommodating the growing student body. Now all the students are housed under one roof, including the kindergarten classes, which had been held in a old convent across the street from the school.
The expanded footprint of St. Clare will allow the school to keep small class sizes, Faust said. "Academically, we are very strong," she said, noting the completion of the project "enhances the education we are already giving our kids."
Hitpas said the new St. Clare School will not only serve the students who attend the school, but the public school students who are part of the Parish School of Religion on Sundays. "It benefits all the young students of our parish, not just the ones who go to the school," he said.
St. Clare School currently serves 346 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at its main campus. The school's 91 preschool students, Faust said, in the Good Shepherd Preschool, are currently located on the St. Nicholas campus.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.