Regional Catholic High School opening delayed

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 7:36 p.m. CST; updated 6:41 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 10, 2011

COLUMBIA — Lagging fundraising amid a struggling economy will delay the opening of the Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, the Diocese of Jefferson City said on Thursday. 

The diocese issued a news release stating that the proposed September 2010 opening would be pushed back because all the financing for the school's construction isn't in place. 

The Diocese of Jefferson City estimates $17 million is needed for construction, furnishing and initial administrative costs for the new school. About $8 million has been raised already, meaning approximately $9 million is still needed. The diocese hoped to collect the remainder through a combination of donations, pledges and bonds, but officials said the economic downturn has slowed the flow of money. 

"It's all a process. We're working with people, and sometimes dates don't line up," said Jane Rutter, director of stewardship and development for the diocese. Rutter said no specific date has been set for the completion of fundraising.

Even though all the school's finances aren't in place, the building plans and zoning approvals are complete. Peckham & Wright Architects Inc., an architectural firm based in Columbia, has made designs for the school. Construction documents still need to be completed with Professional Contractors & Engineers Inc., also based in Columbia.

The school is looking to make other steps in the coming months. “We will hire a chief administrator ahead of time, and once the start date is finalized, we will start to recruit members,” said Donald F. Novotney, Catholic school superintendent for the diocese.

Rutter said the diocese administration will begin searching for an interim principal for the school immediately and hopes to announce its hire by the end of March. In addition, a naming contest for the school will begin soon, Rutter said.

Novotney said that in the first year, there will only be ninth and 10th grades offered at the new school. The plan is to expand by one additional grade each year and eventually hold between 200 to 400 students.

While Columbia is gearing up for its new Catholic high school, at the national level, the number of Catholic elementary and secondary schools has dropped by 2 percent from the 2007-2008 school year. Enrollment in Catholic schools has also decreased by 14.4 percent since 2000, figures show.

Catholic schools across the nation are closing because of insufficient enrollment and fund allocations, Novotney said, but “our enrollment is relatively stable compared to the rest of the nation.”

"We aren't just building a physical school structure — we want to sustain Catholic education for our children and grandchildren," said the Rev. John Gaydos, diocesan bishop. "For more than a decade, there has been a vision for Catholic high school education in Columbia. Now is the time to make that vision a reality."

The City Council approved the final plan for the school in November.  The new school will be located between Gans Road and Philips Lake in Columbia.

Missourian reporter Alicia Swartz contributed to this report.

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