By RENEE WEBB
When students at Bishop Heelan High School head back to class from Christmas break on Jan. 5, they will be at home in the school’s new $10.4 million academic wing.
According to Chris Bork, principal, the 55,000-square-foot building houses 29 classrooms.
While it will provide a top-notch academic setting, the administrator stressed the importance of featuring Catholic identity.
“We want a flow that shows a dedication to academics and to our Catholic faith,” said Bork. “When you walk in, we want you to be awed by the great building, but still be able to look down the hallways and know this is distinctly Catholic, offering a faith-filled education.”
Finishing touches are presently being made to the building that will feature images of saints that relate to academics along with Scripture verses adorning the walls of the hallways. A six-foot tall portrait of Bishop Edmond Heelan, which was given by his family to the school, has been refurbished and will be prominently placed in the school. Plus, the back stairwell will feature the crucifix from the chapel in the original school.
Natalie Callaghan, a senior at Bishop Heelan, was the student representative on a media tour of the new building earlier this month.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “I am so impressed. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it has definitely surpassed everything. I am very excited to be in here.”
The reality of moving to the new building after break drew a little closer for all students as they participated in a eucharistic procession on Dec. 18.
Students gathered in the gymnasium for a prayer service led by Father Shane Deman, chaplain at the school. During his homily, he told the student body they had the opportunity to participate in a new chapter of Bishop Heelan High School.
“We have the chance to write the first pages of the new school, which will hopefully last for generations to come,” the chaplain said. “To begin this transition, we are asking the Lord to lead us. We are about to carry Christ, in his eucharistic presence here in this tabernacle, into the new halls of the school. He is taking possession of the new school today, not us. Ultimately, it is his building, his school, his center for evangelization, catechesis, wisdom and knowledge.”
Father Deman said Christ’s eucharistic presence in the tabernacle would leave the current Heelan building that day, to take up residence in the new building.
“May our efforts create a worthy home for him where all visitors and guests know his presence is to be found whenever they enter the halls of the new Bishop Heelan,” he said.
As the students sang O Come Emanuel, Father Deman carried the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament leading the eucharistic procession to the new building. Students were able to get a quick look at their future academic home as they processed down the halls before going to the auditorium in the fine arts building for benediction.
Updated educational setting
Bork spoke of the many features of the new building that make it better geared for 21st century learning and student activities than the present 67-year-old school.
“The five science classrooms are lecture labs,” he said. “The concept behind that being a place for students to have class and then break right into labs, to be flexible in their learning.”
With the current school building, there are several science classrooms but only one lab.
“As the next generation science standards come out, there is more and more of an emphasis on hands-on learning and lab work,” said Bork, who noted the teachers believe that is the best way to learn science. With each classroom having its own lab, “that will make a difference from a teaching and learning standpoint.”
Each classroom is equipped with a 70-inch Vizio TV with sound-bar and every teacher will have a tablet, enabling them to offer the latest in classroom presentation and instruction. The classrooms, which are equipped with sprinkler systems, have wireless access.
The new academic wing of which W.A. Klinger has served as general contractor, noted Bork, will have an enhanced media center that features more technology, a career/guidance center with registrar, chaplain’s office and administrative office space that allows for easier collaboration among the staff.
“Once the school day has started, there will be a single-entry point to enter the building and that will enhance security,” the principal said. “The building will have enhanced security cameras and better locking mechanisms.”
For Callaghan, the availability of three breakout rooms for students will be a plus for those who need to collaborate on group projects. The senior mentioned she has seen many of these types of rooms on university campuses during college visits.
She also noted the spacious and open stairways in the building stood out to her while on the tour.
“Definitely as a senior this year,” Callaghan added, “we get the best of both worlds. We are the last seniors in the old building and the first seniors in the new building.”
After original funding fell through for faculty and administrative furnishings, school officials reached out to former faculty and staff about providing these items as a housewarming gift.
Tom Betz, director of advancement at Bishop Heelan, said they raised more than $30,000 from 44 former faculty and staff who had been invited to participate in a sneak-peek tour in October.
“That is phenomenal. The former faculty and staff were excited about the opportunity to provide this gift to the current faculty and staff,” he said. “We had some additional funds – even a few class reunions came forward and helped – so we are able to provide all new furnishings for the administration, counselors and teachers.” Faculty members will have a new desk, chair, credenza, podium and file cabinet.
Bork pointed out that between the construction of the school’s fine arts building that was completed in 2014 and this latest construction, building codes changed and required a tornado shelter. With that in mind, six interior classrooms are enclosed in a concrete shell.
Another benefit of the new building will not only provide for accessibility, but will put to end a long-standing joke at Heelan. He noted older students will no longer be able to ask the new ones if they have “an elevator pass.” The new two-story building has an elevator.
And despite having just two floors, the dean’s office is expected to be called “Room 318” in keeping with the school’s tradition.
With the new academic wing attached to the fine arts building, Bork said all classes will be in one structure with the exception of the physical education classes that will still be held in the original gym for the time being.
The school will also keep the CYO building that houses preschool classrooms, maintenance, weight room and wrestling room.
Betz said they are actively trying to fund the new gymnasium.
“We would like to have funds pledged by Feb. 15, so we could begin construction in the spring,” he said. “Our goal is to finish the school and a school is not complete without a gym.”