Catholic school opens year with new campus

St. Paul Catholic School officials and parents came Monday to a ribbon-cutting, hosted by the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce, at the school’s new quarters — the former St. Joseph Church/School on Oliver Street in Owosso.

OWOSSO — St. Paul Catholic School officials, parents and students had two reasons to celebrate Monday: the first day of school and a new school building.

A large group gathered Monday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the Shiawassee Chamber of Commerce, whose ambassadors congratulated St. Paul on its move to the former St. Joseph School building, 811 E. Oliver St.

“So far, everything has gone beautifully,” St. Paul Principal Laura Heatwole said. “We are so blessed with the people in our parish, families who helped along the way, the maintenance crew — and my teaching staff is incredible.”

The K-8 parochial school switched locations because the former site is an old building, constructed in 1929, with multiple floors that needed at least $500,000 in renovations.

The new St. Paul Catholic School building is on one level and the oldest portion was constructed more recently, in 1949. The structure hasn’t served as a school since the late 1990s. In recent years, it has housed religious education programs, day care and meetings.

Over the past summer, a new heating and cooling system was installed, drop ceiling added to hide wiring for electronic technology, fresh paint applied throughout and some windows replaced.

“It’s a newer building, all on one level, and it’s in better shape,” the Rev. Mike O’Brien, pastor of St. Paul Parish, said. “The old one was beginning to deteriorate. I’m happy we had this alternative, to keep our school functioning.”

St. Paul Catholic School and St. Joseph Church/School share the same priests and comprise the Owosso Catholic parish of St. Paul. A few years ago, a committee conducted an analysis of both buildings and recommended the move to the former St. Joseph campus, citing financial and infrastructural challenges.

Jamie Somers of Henderson, whose three children all attended St. Paul Catholic School, said she is pleased about the decision to move.

“(The new building) is very nice, very welcoming,” Somers said. “The teachers have done a great job with the classrooms. Everyone was very excited to get back to school today.

“We’re just happy the school is still here and our children can still come here. I love the small class sizes and the family atmosphere the school brings.”

Despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, all classes are in-person, with social distancing made easier thanks to small class sizes. Students wear face coverings. Masks are optional for students in K-5 when they are entering or leaving the building, and between classes. Masks are mandatory for the older students at all times, Heatwole said.

St. Joseph School, which has been added onto at least twice, was originally designed for use as an elementary school. The original St. Paul School was constructed as a combination elementary/secondary school to accommodate students in grades K-12. The high school closed in 1971.

“The committee found that the option of upgrading the more recently constructed St. Joseph School is, by far, the more financially sensible option when compared to the costs of renovating the St. Paul building,” Bruce Buysse, a member of the buildings and grounds committee, has said. “The St. Joseph building also meets the guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessibility, whereas the St. Paul building does not.”

The St. Joseph building also has easier access for technology upgrades and the option to air condition, Buysse said.

In 2017, St. Paul Catholic School had about 120 students. There are about 50 students currently enrolled.

Moving forward, the parish hopes the new school building will help attract new students.

“Like most parishioners, I, too, feel a degree of sadness that the St. Paul school building, with all its history and memories, is no longer financially feasible or, even safe for us to continue to use,” O’Brien previously said.

“Despite that sadness, I also have great faith that this new school campus will begin a new chapter in our school’s history. My goal is that we continue our mission to be able to offer an affordable faith filled education with high academic standards to our students for years to come.”

The fate of the old St. Paul building, which sits next door to St. Paul Catholic Church, has not been determined.

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