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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Catholic school addition doesn’t sacrifice tradition

SAN ANTONIO — When it came time to plan construction of a classroom addition, leaders at St. Anthony Catholic School wanted something that provided modern amenities without sacrificing the traditional look of their 91-year-old brick structure.

An architect’s rendering shows the result to be a faux-brick facade that’s a near, if not exact, replica of the real brick on the old building.

“We’re trying to match it up fairly similar,” said Father Edwin Palka, pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.

Construction on the roughly $3 million project should start in early December with a plan to move into the new classroom and administration building in August for the start of the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s going to be very quick,” Palka said.

Once the new building is ready, a renovation project will get underway on the old building, which will continue to house the library, the cafeteria, a computer lab and classrooms for art and music.

To celebrate the coming change, the school plans a groundbreaking ceremony at 1 p.m. Nov. 17 at the school at 32902 St. Anthony Way in San Antonio.

Sister Alice Ottapurackal, the principal, said the expansion is something the school has needed for some time.

“We know it is through God’s blessing it is happening,” she said. “We are truly, truly excited about it.”

One key improvement is that the new building will be wheelchair accessible, as will the old building once it’s renovated, Palka said. Anyone in a wheelchair or using crutches will be able to use an elevator. Right now, the school has numerous stairways that students and staff must navigate.

In addition, the new building will have central air conditioning, and so will the old building after the renovation. Currently, window units serve that purpose in the 91-year-old building.

A covered walkway will link the buildings so the school’s 216 students won’t get wet in rainy weather when they head from their classrooms to the cafeteria, where expanded space should allow more of them to eat at the same time.

Palka said one seemingly simple improvement generated plenty of excitement among parents. A small drop-off area is being added so the cars are off the road when parents drop off or pick up their children. Right now, there’s no room to pull off the road.

The school has a long history in East Pasco. The parish was established in 1883, and Saint Anthony Catholic School opened soon after, founded by Cecilia Morse, the widowed mother of six children.

The current school building was constructed in 1922 at a cost of $22,000. During the construction, eighth-grade boys who performed well in class were rewarded with the opportunity to help carry bricks for the bricklayers, Palka said. Years later, they recalled that year as one of their best academically because they considered it a treat to help with the bricks and kept their grades up so they wouldn’t miss out, he said.

As decades passed, enrollment outgrew the building, so the school added four portable classrooms that house fourth to eighth grades. Since the portables are in the vicinity of the upcoming construction, the school plans to put new portable classrooms on the opposite side of the old building. Furniture and classroom materials will be moved from the old to the new portables over the Thanksgiving holiday, Palka said.

School media specialist Betty Will said she’s excited about the construction project, and the students appear to be, too.

“That building is a very welcome addition,” she said.

But Will, who has been with the school 23 years, said she is glad the library will remain in the old building, though it might be reconfigured somewhat.

“I would have a hard time leaving this room, to be honest,” Will said. “There’s something to be said about the history.”

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