By Yadira Betances
---- — ANDOVER — Walking gingerly, Abigail Agudelo held a teaspoon full of sand as not to waste one grain of it, then placed it within a glass container.
Abigail, 7, was one of 452 students, faculty members and parents who took part in the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new gymnasium at St. Augustine School, 26 Central St.
“The school is so academically advanced, to have a gym it will have more of a complete offering,” said Abigail’s mother, Wendy. “We’re thrilled beyond belief to have the facility.”
Built in 1914, St. Augustine School has not had a gym since it opened. For the past 35 years, students in first through eighth grade walked to the Knights of Columbus Hall on Brook Street for gym classes, said Principal Paula O’Dea.
“Brook Street is a large room, not a gym facility,” O’Dea said. “We wanted to expand our gym and our basketball program.”
The Centennial Gymnasium will have 6,915 square feet, the size of a middle school gym. It will be located 30 feet from the school’s back door on St. Augustine Drive. It will include basketball courts, an athletic office, lobby, restrooms and storage area. It will also house after school clubs, which currently include track, computer, science, cooking, soccer. Those groups now meet in classrooms or the school yard.
The school is a member of the Merrimack Valley Catholic Basketball League, but its team can not have home games because it lacked a gymnasium.
“The kids are very excited. They look at the pictures all the time and always ask if it’s going to be ready for basketball season or before they graduate,” O’Dea said.
When the gym was first proposed, St. Augustine School and Parish held a dinner attended by 35 families, who make up the bulk of contributors. O’Dea said financial contributions range from $25 to three separate donations of $25,000. The building will cost $1.9 million and so far, $900,000 has been raised by parents of present and alumni, O’Dea said. Some of the construction cost will be paid through a loan from the Archdiocese of Boston. Andover’s Planning Board approved the “Centennial Gymnasium” on April 9.
Work begins this summer. The gym’s foundation will be laid in the spring. George Nammour of Atkinson, N.H., is the architect.