OLYMPIA – Pope John Paul II High School’s board chairwoman greeted a cheering crowd of students, parents and donors on the first day of classes today at the school’s temporary home at Saint Michael Parish in Olympia.
“Here we are,” Cecilia Brennan said as the school opened for freshman and sophomore classes. “As you know, this has been a long process.”
That process began six years ago with the efforts of parents who wanted South Sound students to have a local Catholic high school option, Brennan said. The school, which has about 20 students, five teachers and a principal, will be housed at Saint Michael’s until it can move into the old Lacey firehouse in December or January.
The renovated firehouse at 5608 Pacific Ave. S.E. is the school’s longer-term solution after plans to build in Hawks Prairie fell through because of bank loan issues. Firehouse renovations are under way, and phase one is is expected to cost about $1.2 million. A large chunk of that is covered by a tenant agreement, said Carol Cooper, a volunteer attorney for the school who negotiated terms for the 10-year lease.
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When both construction phases are completed in several years, the 18,000-square-foot building will have 11 classrooms and be able to accommodate 240 students. Its proximity to Saint Martin’s University makes it an attractive location both spiritually and educationally, Brennan said. She added that the firehouse could later be expanded and confirmed that the school still owns the property in Hawks Prairie.
The day was emotional for many, including principal Ron Edwards, who said he got so excited the night before that he didn’t need his normal morning cup of coffee to get energized. Along with thanking the parish and its leaders for sharing resources, Edwards thanked God.
“God’s presence and grace in the process has never been in doubt,” he said.
Prayers for strength and resolve for Catholic education also filled the room.
Tuition at Pope John Paul II is about $9,900 a year. The school is funded through tuition, fees and gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations.
Before Mass, students reflected on their first day of school and being part of the inaugural classes.
“We’re famous already,” freshman Johanna Forbes said.
Standing next to her was sophomore Rebecca Wetzel, who will be in the school’s first graduating class. However, the school is not new to her. Wetzel took part in its home-school program and said she recently moved from a small town where she was unhappy with her education choices.
Across the room, freshman Andy Sloan explained how classmate and friend Molly Dols persuaded him to enroll. Sloan said standing in a church and not being Catholic was a bit scary but also said larger class sizes in public high schools would have been too hard to overcome.
“For me, I can’t learn in an environment like that,” he said.
Thurston County has not had a Catholic high school in more than 20 years, board member Jay Rudd said. He hopes the new school will attract students from surrounding counties as well; until Tuesday, the closest Catholic school was Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, 29 miles from Olympia.
“Now that our school is open, we need to keep the momentum going,” Rudd said.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476, firstname.lastname@example.org