Jun 5, 2014

Plans for rebuilding Cathedral High School in Springfield move forward



(Iobserve file photo)

Staff report

SPRINGFIELD – As the last class of students who attended Cathedral High School’s tornado-damaged Surrey Road campus prepare to graduate, planning for the school’s eventual return to Springfield’s East Forest Park is well underway.

“I know visually it doesn’t appear like much is happening, but behind the scenes preparations are in full swing,” diocesan spokesperson Mark E. Dupont told iobserve.

One sign of movement has been the ongoing clean-up of tornado damaged trees on the land behind the former St. Michael’s Priests Residence on Wendover. The sloped lot runs to the back of St. Anthony Maronite Church on Island Pond Road, and has been the focus of active clean-up for a few weeks by Northern Tree Company.

The Cathedral Class of 2014 was in the final days of its freshmen year on June 1, 2011, when the tornado struck western Massachusetts, tearing a path through Springfield that brought it right to the Surrey Road site, causing extensive damage.  When the school reopened in September, it did so in temporary quarters at the former Memorial School in Wilbraham, where it remains at the present time.

Despite the relocation, Cathedral High School recently received accreditation as an International Baccalaureate program and expanded its curriculum to include an advanced eighth grade program. However, enrollment numbers, which had been a concern prior to 2011, became a greater challenge in Wilbraham, said Dupont.

                                            (Iobserve file photo)

After a long and difficult negotiation with its insurance carrier, Catholic Mutual, followed by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell announced in March that Cathedral would return to Surrey Road.

The process to demolish the old structure, and make way for new construction to begin in 2015, took a major step forward this week when the diocese opened bidding on the demolition project, slated to begin this summer. Legal notices announcing the bidding process and a walk-through ran in major regional newspapers, including The Boston Globe, The Republican in Springfield, and The Hartford Courant in Connecticut.

Dupont also announced that the process which will lead to determining the make-up and design for the new structure has also begun. “The question is what, if any, parts of St. Michael’s Academy should be included in the new structure with Cathedral High School and how would that be administered,” he said.

(Iobserve submitted photo)

To help move that discussion along, strategic planning sessions have been scheduled, one of which was held in late May and included administrators, faculty, and board members from both schools. Frank Locker, an independent academic planning consultant is facilitating these meetings. A second and expanded gathering is scheduled for mid-June and will include parents and neighborhood representatives.

“Our goal is to arrive at some consensus about the best approach which maximizes the dollars we have available. The goal is to provide a high quality and sustainable Catholic education model in Springfield,” Dupont said.

When St. Michael’s Academy (SMA) was formed by merging the five remaining Catholic elementary schools in Springfield, it occupied the former Holy Cross School, the former Cathedral Convent on Wendover Road and a large portion of the western wing of Cathedral High School. That reconfiguration came with a price tag of approximately $10 million, which the diocese advanced.

Currently all of SMA is housed at the Holy Cross site, where space is tight, Dupont noted.

“When St. Michael’s was created we were challenged by numbers and excess unused space at Cathedral High School,” he said. “But now we can be more strategic in planning, with the clean slate provide by the devastation of the 2011 tornado.”