By RENEE WEBB
Not long after students returned to Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City for the start of this school year, they broke ground for a new academic wing.
According to Chris Bork, principal at Bishop Heelan, the new addition will hold the majority of the classrooms and will replace their current building.
“With the update, it is a testament to the role of Catholic faith and education here now and for years to come,” he said. “It also gets us into a one building setting, which we have never really had. We had the school and the CYO. Now we are in the current building and the fine arts center. We spend a lot of time traveling.”
Bork said for security and safety reasons, it will be very beneficial to be under one roof. The new academic wing will connect directly to the fine arts center that was opened about two years ago.
The new addition will include a media center, mathematic classrooms, science labs and classrooms, social studies classrooms, world language classrooms, English and journalism classrooms, life skills classroom, career and guidance center, administration and dean’s offices as well as chaplain’s office and teacher support areas.
On Oct. 25, Heelan held a special service to bless the construction workers and the project. Father Shane Deman, chaplain, prayed that “God sends his blessings on those who labor on this project.”
He said they were grateful for all who made this possible and called it a “legacy of pride.”
At the blessing ceremony, Bork commented, “It’s a great day to be a crusader.”
Tom Betz, director of advancement for Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools, said since the new fine arts center that is equipped with art and music classrooms, auditorium and chapel opened, the faculty and staff know first-hand how blessed the school is to have such a facility. He stressed they feel just as strongly about the next addition.
“Number one would be the positive vibe to go along with new,” he said, citing air conditioning, fewer stairs and classroom upgrades as some of the plusses. “Everything state-of-the-art will lend to a better educational experience.”
Bork said the new addition will feature an enhanced learning environment including collaborative student spaces, a library media center that supports more online education and technical learning. Science classrooms will be improved, he added, as each will be equipped with a learning lab.
An elevator will also make this two-story facility handicapped-accessible.
“We want to make sure we are preparing our students for a post-high school world where they can be successful whether it’s for college, the work-force or the military,” Bork said. “They will be able to have access to technology, hands-on learning, higher order thinking, critical problem solving – all those things are needed and with enhanced facilities, it creates easier modes for the teachers to present information.”
Currently, Betz noted there is $11 million committed to the project – PRIDE II – at this point and noted the target of $13 million would allow them to complete the gymnasium.
Due to design changes that included a larger gym than originally planned and a storm shelter, which is now required by the state as well as increased material and labor costs, he said costs did rise.
“We have a goal of raising an additional $3 million by March of 2017,” Betz noted. “If we meet that goal, then we can begin the gymnasium, which will allow the academic wing and gym to open simultaneously. It is an aggressive goal, but we are close to the goal line. We feel that we have the support to reach that goal and make sure that our students and faculty move into a completed new Heelan in 14 months.”
Good weather conditions this fall have put the project a bit ahead of schedule with an anticipated completion date of Christmas of 2017.
With words of gratitude for all those who have made this possible, Betz said, “Our supporters have been here for the long haul and while it was tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, they haven’t wavered. It has been really fantastic as well to get so many new friends involved on PRIDE II. The Crusader spirit and passion for Heelan is a unique and great thing.”
On the same day of the blessing of construction workers, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the new business office building, which had been donated to Bishop Heelan by Ho-Chunk Inc.
The building is named Father Patrick Walsh Administration Offices, in honor of the long-time former president of the school system. The office opened in mid-September.
“Many, many friends who made this move for us possible wanted to honor a friend who had done so much, for not only Bishop Heelan, but also our diocese for 43 years,” noted Betz. “Father Walsh came to be an administrator at Heelan when we really needed him. He made a lot of tough, sometimes unpopular decisions, but all for the greater good of our schools. I am so happy for him.”