Breaking new ground

Krystle Wagner • Mar 19, 2016 at 7:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — Following Friday morning Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a crowd of children, parents and community members circled around eight shovels and hard hats to break ground on a nearly 23,000-square-foot new education center, which will house St. Mary’s School and faith formation classes for the church.

After Easter, the area will be fenced off and construction will begin. It is slated for completion by November, which means a mid-year move for the school.

The entire project is slated to cost about $5.8 million. Before breaking ground, half of the funds needed to be collected.

“After several years of the planning process and a couple of years fundraising and planning and design, we have reached the point where we are ready to begin construction, and so today we will take our first shovelfuls of dirt,” Father Dave Gross of St. Mary’s Catholic Church told the crowd on Friday. “… It’s been a long journey so far. We still have a ways to go, but today’s an exciting day.”

This will be the first new elementary school built in the Diocese of Grand Rapids in the past 20 years, according to a press release.

Initial planning for the project began in 2002 when the church completed its new gathering space, kitchen and gym.

Since 2012, St. Mary’s parishioners, families and the community have raised money through the Mary, Seat of Wisdom Campaign.

At the end of January, crews demolished the former residence for St. Mary’s priests, which stood at 432 E. Exchange St.

The new two-story education center will be attached to the southeast side of the church. The building will house preschool through eighth-grade classrooms, staff work space, resource space, and rooms for art and science classes.

The current middle school wing of St. Mary’s School will be demolished to make room for “green space” and parking. The remainder of the existing school will be remodeled for storage and the parish’s food pantry.

An estimated 600-700 people will use the new space on a regular basis. School enrollment is slated to run between 250 and 300 students, with nearly 200 faith formation student and adult education courses.

As students walked back to class on Friday, third-grader Carter Charnley said he will miss his current school building, but he’s looking forward to a new one. Charnley, 8, said he believes the new building and accommodations will help him and his classmates learn better.

Principal Steve VanHammen said he’s excited for all St. Mary’s students to be under one roof. The students currently have to leave school and walk to the church for classes such as art and music.

Faith Clark, president of the St. Mary’s Student Council, said she was slightly nervous about participating in the morning groundbreaking ceremony, but she was even more excited about the turnout and support shown for the project. Although eighth-grader Clark won’t be attending school in the new building next year, she’s looking forward to watching construction progress and future students benefit.

“I’m so happy for students next year to be in it,” she said.

To donate to the campaign or specific aspects of the project, call the parish office at 616-842-1702 or visit the campaign’s website at msowcampaign.org.

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