Local News Archive
Print Issue: September 4, 1997
New Schools Enter Planning Phase
BY GRETCHEN KEISER
ATLANTA--While Catholic school students had the summer off, teachers and administrators were working on the next generation of new Catholic schools for the archdiocese.
With five new Catholic schools in the planning stage, approximately 25 archdiocesan teachers representing every elementary grade level and every departmental specialty met as a group in June to help envision a prototype for future Catholic elementary schools.
Their recommendations, compiled and reviewed in July by The Facility Group, Inc., will be combined with recommendations by archdiocesan Catholic school administrators and other input to produce a prototype in the early fall.
That prototype will be turned over to an architect for design by the end of 1997. It will be used to build three new Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese planned to open in the fall of 1999.
A similar process is underway to develop a prototype for a Catholic high school and included a four-hour meeting July 24 of 19 faculty and staff from St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. The faculty members, speaking from the perspective of their individual teaching specialty or area of responsibility, talked about the kinds of space needed to teach effectively and provided input about what works and what does not work in their current teaching environment.
They also discussed what future classroom needs can be anticipated, particularly in light of computer technology.
The contributions by high school faculty and staff are being reviewed by The Facility Group at the present time. A Catholic high school prototype is expected to be developed in the late fall, approximately one month after the elementary school prototype is completed.
This prototype is expected to be used to build two new Catholic high schools for the archdiocese, one in the northwestern metropolitan area serving Cobb, Fulton and Cherokee counties and a second high school at a site on the south side of Atlanta that has not yet been precisely determined.
Both the elementary teachers' and the high school teachers' comments were recorded in extensive detail by The Facility Group, a Smyrna company hired by the archdiocese to provide program management services for the construction of the new Catholic schools.
Representatives of The Facility Group also toured three archdiocesan elementary schools, St. Jude and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Atlanta, and St. John Neumann Regional School in Lilburn, and also toured St. Pius X High School. They also showed Catholic school administrators some recently constructed public schools in metropolitan Atlanta to illustrate the latest school design possibilities.
Among the broad concepts being discussed are an elementary school configuration that de-emphasizes the long straight hallway with classrooms on either side and instead orients classrooms near to one another based upon the age and grade level being taught. The prototype is also expected to provide more physical classroom space for students than the Catholic schools constructed in the past, according to those working on the project.
Topics raised by teachers included every aspect of classroom and building utilization, from the need to emphasize the Catholic identity of the school and classroom through prominent Catholic images, to the kinds of classroom boards and lighting that are most effective for different age groups.
Archdiocesan educators said they were pleased that the process went directly to classroom teachers in Catholic schools for advice about how to design and structure teaching environments.
"We are really making an effort to involve the practitioners. We are asking the teachers who teach in our schools every day," said Bertha Martin, Secretary for Education. "It is very exciting and it is a lot of work...We want to be very clear in terms of how we are going to use the (classroom) spaces. We don't want to build schools that as soon as they are up are obsolete or are poorly planned."
Martin noted that the process involved representatives from every Catholic elementary school in the archdiocese and that principals were asked to send teachers and specialists of their choice to the June meeting.
"I think the meetings have been very valuable," said Sandra Smith, superintendent of Catholic schools. "I personally like the idea of involvement of the teachers. At the principals' meeting, we had principal input and now we have had teacher input...I think the process has been very valuable and we have gotten some good input."
While these meetings have been underway, the Department of Catholic Education has also been in the process of looking for leadership for the new schools, Smith noted.
Already advertising locally and nationally for principals for the new elementary schools, the department expects to have those positions filled by July 1998, giving the principals a year to prepare for the opening of the schools and to select their faculty members.
"We are focusing on the elementary schools first," Smith said, since those schools are scheduled to open in the fall of 1999. Since the first new high school is not scheduled to open until the fall of 2000, the search for a high school principal is not as immediately pressing, the superintendent added.
"It is a very exciting process," she said. "We are looking at design, we are looking at leadership, we are looking at curriculum, and it is a collaborative process...We are on target."
The designated sites for the new Catholic schools are the following:
In light of the magnitude of the project, the archdiocese has brought on board George Barrie as president of Catholic Construction Services, Inc., a newly formed corporation owned by the archdiocese to provide construction program management services for all archdiocesan capital improvements.
Barrie, formerly senior vice president of development and construction for Laing Properties, Inc., and his staff will have responsibility for overseeing the entire new school construction project from their offices adjacent to the Catholic Center on West Peachtree Street.
"The design of the building will be from the inside out, starting with the user's needs, starting with the curricula, from the classrooms, to the departments, to the entire building," Barrie said. He said the archdiocese has demonstrated a tremendous commitment to making the projects and process successful.
When a schematic diagram for the elementary schools has been produced, probably in October, Catholic Construction Services will enter the design phase of the process using pre-selected architects, Barrie said.
The construction, at an estimated cost of $67 million, will be funded from several sources, according to Mike McNamara, chief financial officer of the archdiocese.
Twelve million dollars will come from the archdiocesan capital campaign, "Building The Church Of Tomorrow." Approximately $55 million will come from a tax-exempt bond issue marketed by a bank for the archdiocese, McNamara said. He projects that the bonds will be sold as needed from late 1998 through the early part of 2000.
Msgr. Edward Dillon, who worked extensively on the effort to plan for and fund the new schools while vicar general, said, "All of the mechanisms are in place to carry the process forward."
Although his tenure as vicar general ended Sept. 1 and he is stepping back from the schools project, Msgr. Dillon said he was confident that "the archdiocese and our parishes are very well positioned to deal with the kind of growth that we are experiencing and will continue to experience" in the Catholic population. He also said that there is an element of interest in new Catholic schools on the part of pastors that is unprecedented in his memory of the archdiocese over the past 30 years.
"There is a lot of enthusiasm. There are a lot of anxious parents waiting to see the program develop so that they can move their children into the parochial school system," said George Aulbach, retired president of Laing Properties, who is serving as chairman of the implementation committee for the new schools.
"As soon as we have our prototype floor plan then we will be requesting proposals from a select group of architects. We hope that by the end of October or early November we will have the architect selected to do the elementary schools," Aulbach said.
Using a prototype site-adapted for each location will enable the archdiocese to save on architectural and engineering costs, Aulbach said, an economy that could save hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said that building the three elementary schools simultaneously may also result in some savings in construction costs because of duplication of materials.
He also emphasized that the funds that are spent will be directed toward the educational component of the schools.
"We will have somewhat of a no-frills building. We are spending money on the inside, where the rubber hits the road, benefiting the students," Aulbach said.
"We're not building any Taj Mahals," he added. These schools will be aesthetically attractive in a simple way and readily identifiable as Catholic schools of the archdiocese, Aulbach said. "We are taking as much of the money as we can and putting it where it helps the students and helps the teachers who are teaching those students."