Oct 7, 2013

Diocesan, school officials begin planning for Cathedral High future



(Iobserve file photos)

Staff report

SPRINGFIELD – In the month since the tornado damage insurance settlement was announced, renewed planning for the future of Cathedral High School has quietly begun on many avenues.

Following the Sept. 10 settlement announcement by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, conversations between diocesan officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, were advanced, as was architectural planning for a facility on the Surrey Road site. 

This occurred, while plans to address the tuition endowment fund also were started.

“The settlement answered one very important question, but has now left us with many courses of action, which each have their challenges, which must be balanced and carefully coordinated,” said diocesan spokesperson, Mark E. Dupont.

The first obstacle the diocese has faced involves its previously announced plans to demolish parts of the Surrey Road campus that have been deemed unusable for the future. “That plan has been slowed down so as to ensure we follow all FEMA guidelines and don’t inadvertently and adversely impact our claim,” Dupont said.

The diocese is being guided in making its claims to FEMA by Witt and Associates, a company with experience in submitting applications for FEMA funds. It has advised the diocese to carefully follow steps which include historic reviews and open bidding procedures.

The process is further complicated by the current federal government shutdown which has impacted FEMA operations. A planned meeting with FEMA officials next week will not take place if the shutdown continues.

Diocesan finance officer William LaBroad is overseeing both the FEMA application process and structural review for the diocese. He told iobserve it is a careful balancing act.

“We are looking at our available dollars from the settlement, the potential additional dollars from FEMA, and the needs for a facility on Surrey Road, while carefully considering the different levels of potential FEMA funds depending on which course of action we undertake,” he said.  FEMA offers different types of assistance depending on the scope of reconstruction.

LaBroad would not say how much was potentially available through FEMA, except to indicate the amount could be considerable and important to a successful outcome. He also emphasized that any plan has to take into account St. Michael’s Academy Middle School, which resided in a section of the Surrey Road facility.

Diocesan officials met with CBT Architects from Boston, the firm hired after the tornado, to restart a discussion on what options are available given the damage and academic needs.

“As you start to plan you realize the dollars go quickly as the basic educational needs are addressed, so we need to be smart about what to keep and renovate, and what to demolish and re-build,” LaBroad said.

The second, and equally important challenge, lies with the bishop’s intention to base a final rebuilding decision on the success of the Cathedral High School community to raise significant funds for a Cathedral Tuition Fund. This effort is being jointly managed by CHS development staff and diocesan staff.

“Bishop has made it clear that if the future of CHS is to be viable it will require a significant tuition endowment fund,” Dupont said.

At the settlement announcement press release, Bishop McDonnell put out a challenge to the CHS alumni, especially those who were educated at little or no cost, to pledge a current year’s tuition, $9,300, to this fund. He cited lagging endowment and the need to help more families as important aspects of ensuring the future of the school.

“You cannot have essentially a new building and not enough students to pay the overhead and expenses, it’s simply not a viable solution,” said Dupont. “We’ve heard from many CHS alums in the last two years regarding the need to keep this high school opened, so there is no reason this campaign should not be successful,” he said.

School officials already have heard from a small number of donors interested in making that pledge, and they are selecting a steering committee which will guide a formal campaign for later in the year.

“Within days we had promises from inside and outside the diocese, which is a positive sign that this tuition campaign can be successful,” Dupont said.

Since the June 1, 2011 tornado, Cathedral High School has been operating out of a temporary facility at the former Memorial School in Wilbraham, which has options through 2015. St. Michael’s Academy Middle School has been consolidated with the elementary grades at the former Holy Cross School on Eddywood Street, not far from the Surrey Road location.

Citing the uncertainty around the government shutdown and its impact on FEMA decisions, neither LaBroad nor Dupont would estimate a date when a decision could be expected, only saying everyone involved knows time is of the essence.