by Joe Bollig
LENEXA — It’s not every day that you can see an archbishop enthusiastically smashing the wall of a Catholic school.
But that’s what happened here in Lenexa at St. James Academy’s wall-breaking ceremony on March 24.
No, the archbishop hadn’t gone rogue — the destruction had a purpose.
Hefting golden sledgehammers, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and St. James president Andy Tylicki took a few whacks at the Sheetrock behind the counter of the former media center — that’s the library for you older folks.
Afterward, the archbishop and Tylicki passed their tools to four youths representing the students, who also took their swings.
The event, which included a blessing as well, was to ceremoniously start the conversion of the former media center into the Center for Media Arts & Rhetoric, plus space for campus ministry, computer science, career exploration, and other office and multiple use spaces.
“This is a first for me,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I’ve never been at a wall breaking. A groundbreaking, but not wall breaking. As I understand it, you’re going to have a school without a library. It’s the 21st century. [Students] carry their library with them in their computers. And this space will be repurposed . . . to help form our students to be able to communicate the truth and bring the truth of the Gospel for others and create space for the most important part of St. James, which is our campus ministry.”
The renovation of the 5,200-square-foot space will cost just over $1 million and be completed by August. The funds for the project have been raised. After completion of this first phase, a second campus improvement phase will be done in 2023, which is the renovation of existing space for the new Spark Academic Support Center.
The architect is Gould Evans Architects of Kansas City, Missouri, and the general contractor is Straub Construction Co., Inc., of Shawnee. Dan Himmelberg, archdiocesan director of real estate and construction, assisted the school with planning for the project.
Until now, the school had to make do with cramped, inadequate spaces. It was logical to renovate the media center.
“It was really underutilized space,” said Sam Rockford, director of innovation at St. James. “We’re trying to be prudent. We had a lot of space we weren’t utilizing without great intention.”
But the issue wasn’t only how space was used, but the new uses themselves.
“We’re in our 15th year at St. James,” Rockford said. “As we look to the future of education, we know technology will play a big role. It’s important for us to figure out how that future fits with the mission of St. James.
“So, the programs we selected for these spaces blend the mission of St. James with the new educational landscape,” he said. “A lot of schools are going heavily in the direction of STEM programs. What we are trying to do with these new spaces is take what we believe is the best fit for St. James and our educational philosophy and harmonize it with new endeavors in education.”
Tylicki was excited about what the school will do with the renovated spaces.
“We’re really excited about the renovation of this space and bringing campus ministry closer to the chapel,” he said. “They’ve been in the closet for the past 13 years and now they’re going to have their own space. We’re able to move our counselors from an area where there was not good traffic for students to a more centralized area on the administrative suite side.
“We think the Media Arts & Rhetoric program we’re getting ready to create will allow our students to learn how to consume media and how to produce media that will focus on the mission of our school and our faith.”