Gazette opinion: Donors, volunteers bless long-awaited Catholic school

Fifty-five years after land was donated for a West End Catholic school, that vision is moving close to fulfillment. A volunteer-led campaign has raised $9.87 million in pledges toward a goal of $18 million to build a new Billings Catholic school for students in grades 1-8. The new school will provide a better facility for students and a great convenience for families, said Rod Souza, chairman of the Billings Catholic Schools Board. Those with multiple students now have to travel between three buildings that will be consolidated in the new school. “It’s a real challenge for families with multiple children going to different facilities,” Souza said. “These are aging facilities that are not well equipped to handle the number of students we have.” Billings Catholic Schools has an enrollment of 970 students in preschool through high school, not counting children in day care, according to Superintendent Harold Olson. The Fratt Building, which now serves 213 St. Francis Upper students, has neither a gym nor a lunchroom. Students in grades 6-8 walk to lunch at St. Patrick’s Co-cathedral and are bused to Central High for physical education, music and extracurricular activities. The new building will improve efficiency in energy use and administration, Souza said. It will be designed with security of students in mind. “It will be a great central location for our families,” he said. “We can still maintain a very high quality system and maintain small class sizes.” The school will be built on a 26-acre tract next to St. Thomas Catholic Church at Colton Boulevard and Woody Drive. This land was given to the diocese in 1959 by the late William and Lydia Fox to be used for a Catholic school, Olson said.

Rita Turley, past chairwoman of the Catholic School Board, is co-chairing the 15-member fundraising leadership team, along with Mike Herringer. Stella and Ziggy Ziegler are honorary co-chairs.

All members of the campaign leadership team are Billings Catholic Schools alumni, parents of students or parents of former students. Fundraising started in earnest about two years ago, and has been highly successful. The actual building plans are still preliminary with the first building meeting being held this week. The idea is to construct a school big enough to accommodate 80 students at each grade level, she said. “Every time we meet with someone, people are really positive. They’ll say ‘it’s about time,’ ” Turley noted. “Without people coming to donate, we can’t proceed.” “Teachers, staff and even some of our young students have donated and they weren’t even asked.” The campaign team’s goal is to raise all the money needed in donations and multi-year pledges. “We are not planning to go and borrow,” Turley said. The plan is to raise about $16 million before construction starts. “We’re thrilled,” Turley said of the campaign response. “I’ll be even more thrilled when we break ground.” The Catholic schools campaign team is to be commended for remarkable progress on this major project. The fundraising is a full-time job for Turley and a huge time commitment for other leadership volunteers. Billings Catholic Schools has long been respected for academic excellence and we expect that tradition to continue with the new facility. We wish the schools success in building for the future. Full article here:

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