September 23, 2009 // Uncategorized

Bishop bestows blessing on St. Thomas School additions

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By Jodi Magallenes

ELKHART — St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Elkhart celebrated the completion of $3.9 million in additions and renovations to the parish’s school Sunday with a blessing and rededication by Bishop John M. D’Arcy.

During a prayer offered at the school’s new main entrance, Bishop D’Arcy asked that “those within would find the image of Christ — that they, in turn, may be able to assist others.”

Bishop D’Arcy also recognized the magnitude of the parish’s accomplishment in light of being located in a county hard hit by the current recession.

“You did this in the midst of the greatest economic difficulty since the Great Depression. … What a beautiful thing you have done. Your mayor and I thank you for your generosity,” he told parishioners.

The parish was able to raise more than three-fourths of the funds needed for the project through gifts, pledges and parish savings, with the diocese currently holding the note on the remaining $500,000. St. Thomas will reimburse the diocese for that amount as well, which was incurred after the project started when two empty lots came up for sale directly across the street from the school and parish. Both were purchased and will be paved for additional parking.

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore spoke at the rededication service and took the opportunity to laud faith-based education.

“It has been our pleasure to assist you, but to you goes all the credit — you who know the difference between a job and a calling, those of you involved in faith-based education,” Moore told parishioners, parents, children and staff who gathered after Mass for the ceremony.

After Bishop D’Arcy blessed the interior of the school in private, an open house and reception ensued in the school.

Most of the renovations in the K-8 school involved improving the aesthetics and lighting in the 59-year-old building. Many of the classrooms and hallways received new, larger windows and had exposed ductwork concealed. A spacious, welcoming atrium was carved out at a new entrance to the school. And the relocated and greatly-enlarged school office now boasts a nurse’s office, the lack of which — prior to construction — was mentioned as a frustration by parents and administrators alike.

Three sections were added on to the school’s main building during the comprehensive project: two new classrooms off of the east side of the building, two at the southwest corner and two more plus school offices at the northwest corner. The school’s former entrance on Romaine Street was blocked and transformed into a larger office for religious education and three classrooms being used for art, computers and music relocated from the basement and a mobile classroom to the main level. Two adjacent classrooms were vacated and combined to house the school library.

The school’s cafeteria-small gymnasium area received a facelift as well, including the removal of an old stage and the installation of new flooring, a new ceiling and larger windows. An adoration chapel that had previously been located in the school was also removed and a larger chapel built onto the church building last year.

Because some classrooms, the school office and the library were expanded, and the basement and mobile classrooms were brought to the main level, the net gain of classrooms due to the construction is only one. But the purpose of the project wasn’t to expand as much as it was to improve the facilities.

“Really, it brought us into the 21st century,” said Principal Fred Stump. “Now it beautifully accommodates a two-part school. We used to have lots of problems with the electrical too, and that’s all been upgraded. All of it is now handicapped-accessible, too.”

High school student and St. Thomas graduate Regina Mauck attended the open house with her family and was impressed by the extent of the renovations.

“We keep finding old places where the hallway used to end and now there are new classrooms there,” she said as they toured the school.

“Building for God’s Teaching” as the project was called, began in 2005. Construction started in June 2008 and wrapped up “as the kids were walking in the door” in August of this year, according to Stump.

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