The lawn beside Good Shepherd Catholic Church was dotted with yellow hardhats Thursday as kids, teachers and church leaders broke ground on a $5 million expansion project that includes a new school.
The ceremony was marked with songs and prayers. The Rev. Ronald Gainer, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington, blessed the site and sprinkled holy water over the ground.
“We’ve been waiting for it so long,” Good Shepherd School Principal Stephanie Sims said after the shovels were packed up and the kids headed to lunch.
“It was kind of bittersweet when we moved out of downtown because there’s a lot of nostalgia there, but to come out here and know we are making progress – today there is no bitter.”
Teachers and students were even excited to watch as contractors planted stakes in the ground Monday to mark the boundaries of the building, she said.
“There will be inconveniences of having construction right next to us, but we all know what the reward is at the end so we’re going to be flexible,” she said.
“The students are going to watch every little bit of it, and that’s something I think they will remember – I think they’re going to remember digging in the dirt today.”
The Rev. Charles Howell told The State Journal that the goal is to open the new school building by August 2012.
Students now occupy portable buildings behind the church. They also use six classrooms, the cafeteria and kitchen in the Parish Life Center and the gym at nearby Hearn Elementary School.
Contractors began construction earlier this week so they could squeeze in some work before winter hits, Howell said. The project also includes a parish office building for the staff.
The first phase of construction includes nine classrooms, a library and administrative offices, Sims said. A covered walkway will connect the 17,000-square-foot, two-story building to a high school-sized gym in the adjacent lot.
The building will also feature a 1,600-square-foot science lab donated by Alltech, the animal nutrition company based in Nicholasville.
Alltech has provided science labs, outfitted with equipment and supplies, to Seton School, Christ the King Junior High and Christ the King Elementary in Lexington, according to the company’s website.
“They have been wonderful benefactors in many of our schools by designing, building and furnishing science labs in many of our Catholic schools,” Gainer said.
Sims says the building should accommodate all 142 students after the first phase of construction, if teachers continue to use extra space in the Parish Life Center.
Enrollment has dipped over the last few years because of the recession – two years ago the school enrolled 187 students – but Sims says the new school shows that Frankfort still supports Catholic education.
“It’s still a value here, and that’s important to us,” she said.
Kristen Loxley, who has overseen the church’s $3 million fundraising effort for the last year, says most contributions have come from parishioners. Church leaders will eventually reach out to local businesses for additional support, she said.
The Catholic Diocese of Lexington requires that churches raise at least 40 percent of the total construction cost before breaking ground. The church will take out a loan to fund the rest until a second fundraising campaign in several years.
RossTarrant Architects of Lexington have designed the buildings, and Burchfield-Thomas will oversee the work as contractor.
The expansion is the latest step in moving the church and its school from downtown Frankfort to the edge of town, a decision church officials first made in 1978, Howell told The State Journal previously.
The church purchased land on Leestown Road in the early 1980s and finished construction of the church in 1997. The Parish Life Center was completed in 2006.
The Project Development Board agreed in June 2009 to purchase the downtown church office building, elementary school, playground and a portion of the gymnasium for $1.45 million to make way for construction of the new judicial center.
Teachers and students packed up and moved to Leestown Road the following summer.
The school has a history of more than 150 years in Frankfort. St. Mary’s School was founded in 1860 on Second Street. It later merged with St. Joseph’s School for Boys, and later became Good Shepherd School.
According to “The History of Good Shepherd School,” published by the school in 2005, the school’s former site downtown was purchased for $3,600 in the early 1900s under Father Thomas S. Major.
His successor, Father Joseph Flynn, instituted a monthly collection to build a school there, a tradition that continued.
That money, along with a $27,000 fundraising campaign in the early 1920s, was enough to build a school on the site. The cornerstone was laid in 1922, and on Sept. 9, 1923, the building was dedicated by then-Bishop Francis W. Howard.