LACEY - Each student uses a personal laptop computer for schoolwork, and every classroom is wired with some of the latest interactive technology available to educators.
So why were several Pope John Paul II High School students clapping and jumping up and down when they heard an intercom announcement that lunch was over?
Because it was one of the first intercom announcements in their brand new school that opened Monday.
“It works, it works!” the group of ninth-graders squealed. “We have an intercom that works!”
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It’s been an exciting year for the 20-student Catholic high school that opened in September.
The school was temporarily housed at Saint Michael Parish in Olympia while renovations were taking place at its new site, a former Lacey firehouse.
Movers began hauling boxes and furniture into the building Friday, said principal Ron Edwards.
“Some of us came in on Saturday and Sunday just to finish up,” said faculty member Emily Suda, who teaches religion and yearbook.
The building was essentially gutted to make room for the 12,000-square-foot school, according to advancement director Megan Farrell.
The main floor features six classrooms including a science lab and two administrative offices, a reception area, a counseling office, a nursing station, a media and resource room, a cafeteria, conference rooms, storage areas and restrooms. The second floor houses the development offices and a faculty work room.
The school has a 10-year lease on the building, which is owned by Firehouse 5608 Partners LLC of Tacoma. About 65 percent of the $1.2 million in construction costs were covered by a tenant improvement allowance from the owner of the building; the rest was paid for with grants and private donations, Farrell said.
In addition to moving into a new building and developing a slew of college-prep level academic programs, students and staff members have been working hard to establish a sense of identity for the school. They have formed a girls’ volleyball team, a boys’ basketball team, a yearbook staff and a jazz band. One of their next projects will be transforming a patio-sized patch of weeds into the school’s courtyard – a spot where students will be able to reflect, enjoy nature and hang out.
“We’re setting a new standard,” said ninth-grader Austin Mathis, 15. “It’s awesome.”
There are some remnants of the old fire station. For instance, the building still has the engine bay where fire trucks were parked. The garage-like area is slated to be turned into more classrooms during the school’s second phase of construction, which could begin as early as 2013, depending on enrollment, Farrell said.
“For the longest time, there was a pair of firefighter pants hanging from a rope in here,” she said. “The old drying racks are still here for the hoses.”
Thurston County went about 25 years without its own Catholic high school. An all-girls high school run by Saint Placid Priory closed in the mid-1980s; Saint Martin’s shuttered its high school program in 1974.
Organizers for Pope John Paul II High School, which is operated in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Seattle, originally envisioned a much larger school on a 42-acre site in the Hawks Prairie area.
“Then the economy went bad,” said Farrell. “And that size of a campaign just wasn’t feasible.”
For now, school officials say they’ll stay where they are and grow into their new home.
“It is so exciting,” said school volunteer Carol Cooper.
“This was like, ‘Wow, we’re home. We have a place to be.’ It feels like a school.”
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org