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Ground blessed, broken at Seneca for new $3.7 million school


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

SENECA — The last time members of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish here tried to build a school, an uninvited guest arrived and changed their plans.

On May 17, 1896, a twister plowed through the parish property and damaged the church. Bricks intended for the school were commandeered to fix the church, and the school, begun in 1895, wasn’t finished until 1898.

Fortunately, the overcast skies stayed calm on Aug. 9 when parishioners gathered for the blessing and groundbreaking of the new Sts. Peter and Paul School site by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.

The $3.7 million building will be completed, it is hoped, in time for the vigil of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 28, 2009 — also the 140th anniversary of the parish.

During the ceremony, the archbishop referred to Psalm 127.

“We know the familiar words of the psalmist, ‘If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor,’” said the archbishop.

“Whenever we look to the interest of our neighbor and the community, and serve them, we are in a sense God’s own co-workers,” he said. “Let us pray for his help through this celebration, brothers and sisters, that God will bring this construction to a successful completion, and that his protection will keep those who work on it safe from all injury.”

At the site blessing that preceded the Mass, one student representing each grade in the school had the opportunity to join the archbishop in a ceremonial turning of the sod. Members of the parish building committee, in turn, also spaded the earth.

Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass, which followed the site blessing and groundbreaking. The concelebrants were: Father Michael Koller, the pastor; Father Arul Carasala, pastor of St. Bede Parish in Kelly and St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Onaga; and Father Felix Molunmeli, of St. Mary Parish in St. Benedict.

The former convent for women religious teaching at the school, built in 1907, was torn down in early June, and the old grade school was torn down in the middle of July. Both were parish landmarks that held many memories for generations of parishioners, but it was time for both to go, said the pastor.

“[The old grade school] had deteriorated to the point it was not cost effective to either bring it up to code or save the building,” said Father Koller. “A structural engineering analysis of the building had been done, and it said we had about 10 years left before it would have to be condemned. . . . We researched every possible means to save that building, but it was too cost-prohibitive.”

In addition to needing a more structurally sound building, the parish also needs more and better spaces. For example, funeral dinners have had to be held in the church basement, which is too small and provides limited access to the elderly or handicapped.

The new, one-story, rectangular, 27,267-square-foot building will feature seven classrooms, one each for children in preschool, kindergarten, and grades one to five. It will also feature a parish hall/school cafeteria, computer lab, library, gymnasium, kitchen, offices, teacher workroom, eucharistic adoration chapel, storage and locker rooms. The locker rooms will be built as FEMA-standard storm shelters.

“The old building lasted over 100 years, and it was time to build a new building to meet the needs of the next 100 years,” said Todd Leonard, principal. “Our teachers and students will have upgraded classrooms, [as well as] a new library and computer lab. Our sports teams will be able to play home games. . . . The whole parish and school community is looking forward to the new facility.”

The old school will not be forgotten, however. The roof of its bell tower was salvaged and will be incorporated into the entrance of the new school.

“That was the identity of the building,” said Father Koller. “So we thought we could take something from the old building and incorporate it into the new to show that continuity.”

One side of the building will be faced with brick, and the other three will have brick and metal facing. The architect was Emig and Associates Architects of Emporia, and the chief contractor is AHRS Construction of Bern.

The parish also has plans to improve the former Sts. Peter and Paul High School, which was built in 1950 and served as the high school until 1974, when the school closed. Now called the junior high building, it houses grades six,seven and eight.

Projected enrollment for the coming school year is approximately 160. For now, students will be use temporary classrooms in existing parish buildings: the mission building, “the barn” (a gymnasium with basement cafeteria), and the church basement.

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