NEBRASKA CITY (SNR) - Parents, alumni, staff and friends of Lourdes Central Catholic Schools are in the middle of a capital campaign called "Visions: For a Vibrant and Faith-Filled Future" to raise funds for major improvements on both campuses.
Some years ago, there was talk of building an entirely new school on a different site. However, with the changing economy and other factors, those plans were set aside.
"With the huge economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, and even now with high unemployment, we couldn’t quite get to the $13 or $15 million level," said Father Michael McCabe, superintendent of the schools.
Meanwhile, the need for more classrooms, better heating, cooling and electrical systems, and improved technology continued to grow.
"Not all of our classrooms are able to have the technology we want, such as SmartBoards, because we would overload our electrical system," lamented Valerie Able, elementary principal.
The student population took an upswing, with a busload of kids coming down from Saint John the Baptist Parish in Plattsmouth, and more families from Syracuse, Auburn and other communities. Plus, there are students crossing over the Missouri river from Iowa to take advantage of the excellent academics and Christ-centered environment at Lourdes Central Catholic.
To ease the crowding, third-graders were moved over to the middle/high school campus. The stage in the elementary school’s combination cafeteria/gymnasium was pressed into service as a computer lab and library.
The influx of students raised Lourdes Central from class D2 to class C2, putting them in more competitive circles for extra curricular activities and sports. Unfortunately, this change also made it clear that the school gymnasium was adequate for a middle school, but not a high school.
"They play from bench to bench," Mrs. Able said. "There are no extra inches."
And that’s not the half of it. It has become increasingly obvious that the Lourdes Central facilities did not match the academic excellence, dedicated faculty and staff, and talents of the student body.
"It was time to take that leap of faith," stated Mrs. Able.
A team made up of administrative staff, faculty and parents worked with Father McCabe to develop a new plan. Instead of building something new, they will now renovate and add on to both buildings.
"People have been feeling it’s long overdue," said Dr. Dan DeFreece, who serves on the executive committee with his wife Kay.
The list of projects is ambitious.
A better heating and air conditioning system at each campus will alleviate the twin problems of sweltering classrooms in the September and May, and students sometimes wearing coats all day long in January and February.
Bringing the electrical system up to code will enable each teacher to have the advantage of a SmartBoard, a teaching tool found to be valuable on many different levels. The fire retention systems will also be improved, as will campus security.
Both campuses will add classrooms to ease overcrowding. At the middle/high school campus, a new gymnasium with weight room and locker rooms will provide better training and competitiveness. A new auditorium will enhance the performing arts experience for students who excel in music, theatre and speech.
Another part of the project won’t be seen in bricks and mortar: an anonymous donor from the Lincoln area has provided a sizeable matching grant. Once there are enough contributors to secure the grant, this fund will be used to support teacher salaries and increased operating costs for the enlarged facilities.
These projects – and quite a few others – amount to a considerable undertaking for a small school in a small town, but everyone from staff to parents to teachers agree that it’s absolutely necessary.
"It’s expanding on the opportunities Lourdes already has," said Dr. DeFreece, who has three children in the system.
There’s one thing these changes won’t affect: the spiritual environment at Lourdes Central.
"We’ve been very careful to remember we want this to be a Catholic school," said Mrs. Able. "We want that spirituality and those faith aspects of our school to shine through in every element of this building."
Father McCabe has plans to turn a theology room in to a chapel, which will happen as a later phase of the project some years hence.
"Although we have St. Mary’s and St. Benedict’s close to our campuses we would love to have a chapel in our school," he said.
For now, though, the main goal is to secure enough pledges to qualify for the diocesan loan, grants and everything else that is needed so that ground can be broken this September.
"The whole success of the project will be based on prayer and God’s will for us in trying to be a community coming together for the good of our students," Father McCabe said. "We really need a lot of people to think about giving a gift over a period of time."
To make a contribution to the Lourdes Central Campaign, either in terms of a monetary donation, a monthly pledge, or an in-kind donation of labor or materials, please contact Father McCabe at (402) 873-3024.