Prairie Catholic looks at future
By Correne Martin
Prairie Catholic Schools has immense intentions on the horizon that are aimed at strengthening its faith-based, academic offerings for future generations. A $1.5 million capital campaign is drawing to a close, as over $1.4 million has been raised toward plans for a new gym and community hall as well as improvements to the existing St. Gabriel’s facility. The goal is for all students, in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth, to be housed under one roof at the current elementary school.
Construction will likely begin this spring, and a full project time line will be determined in the coming weeks.
“We have a very positive academic history and our families are very proud about what they’ve experienced. We’re doing great things,” Principal Wade Marlow said. “This gets us a lot closer to the schools that have all the bells and whistles. It gets parents to take a look at us when considering a quality education for their kids.”
Currently, 137 students are enrolled in Prairie Catholic—at St. Gabriel’s Elementary School and St. John’s Middle School. That number is anticipated to be steady for quite some time; yet Marlow said the school is hoping to bring in more students and families, including more who may not be Catholic.
“We are a Catholic school and one of our duties is to preach the Gospel, but our goal is also offering a strong education, a different source for families to turn,” Marlow added. “This will help us get the word out about what we offer and give us the opportunity to grow.”
The concept of making upgrades at the schools has been on the table for quite some time for Prairie Catholic. Eight to 10 years ago, a capital campaign took place with plans to add to the facilities, but it fell through. According to Father James Weighner, about $300,000 of that money remains and will serve as a good foundation for the upcoming project.
Less than a year ago, discussions really became solid about the needs for construction and upgrades. Woodland Consultants, of Richland Center, was brought on board in early May last year as the architectural firm for the project. They have worked on similar Catholic school and church ventures. In September of 2013, the Holy Family Parish capital campaign officially started, and MJA Consulting Group, of Columbus, Ohio, was hired to give guidance for the campaign, termed “Building the Future ... Preserving the Past.”
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised at what our community has donated. I’ve been very humbled,” Father Weighner said. “Look at what’s happening in Prairie du Chien right now. We have the hospital project, Hoffman Hall and various other big projects, yet our people have still found a way to give.”
“This really shows we’re on the right step. Our community is coming to us and responding so positively,” Marlow added, “and we are kind of leaning on them at this time. Our families have always been our strong suit.”
A facilities committee has formed to handle the project, along with assistance from the Holy Family Parish’s education and parish committees, as well as its finance and parish councils.
The project plans were made with the entire parish in mind, according to Weighner. The main objective will be to move all of the students and staff under one roof at the St. Gabriel’s facility. Before doing that, a new roof will be placed on the building and energy efficient windows will be installed. Bids are already going out for those portions of the project. Also, some electrical needs will be added and painting/aesthetic improvements will be done.
Two additionally large elements of the project include 1) constructing a new gym along with some office space on the southwest connection of the existing St. Gabe’s elementary, after removal of the current gym/day care and 2) building the community hall alongside St. John’s church, where activities such as wedding and funeral gatherings and adult education classes can take place. This would also allow for handicapped accessibility to all church, school and community events happening there.
“We looked at the demographics we serve and the fact that, when both parishes came together as Holy Family, our families wanted to maintain both churches and our history. We want to let the entire community know we are committed to having two vibrant churches here,” Weighner stated. “It has never been a high priority to do something like this in my priesthood, but this is something that can boost the spirituality in our community too.”
One final component of the project is to make room for a day care that can be utilized more by the community year-round. Presently, the school’s day care is only open when school is in session.
What happens to the current St. John’s school will remain part of the discussion moving forward. Both Weighner and Marlow said they are open to anything that might be presented.
Donations will continue to be accepted toward the capital campaign. For more information, contact St. Gabe’s school office at 326-8624, St. John’s school office at 326-4400 or visit prairiecatholic.org to watch a seven-minute video about the campaign.