ANDOVER — Since it first opened nearly a century ago, the St. Augustine School hasn’t had a suitable gymnasium for its kindergarten-through-eighth grade student population.
Just in time for the school’s centennial, that is going to change.
Fundraising efforts are under way for a $1.9 million, 6,915 square foot gymnasium, to be built behind the private Catholic school’s only building.
The “Centennial Gymnasium” was approved by the Planning Board last Tuesday, April 9, solidifying the designs and leaving fundraising as the only barrier behind building the gym, according to Pastor Peter Gori.
The construction of the gym reflects the biggest addition to the school since the mid ‘60s, when an entire wing was added to the building, Gori said.
Since the school was first opened in 1914, there hasn’t been a dedicated gym space. In recent decades, the school has leased space from the Knights of Columbus on Brook Street, according to Gori.
The school has lived within its space, Principal Paula O’Dea said, but the change to a full facility will be a huge boost for the school.
“[The current facility] is just a big room that’s not adequate anymore,” she said. “Only our grades 1 through 8 travel down there. The kindergarten has to do it in the cafeteria.”
“It works, but it’s definitely not adequate,” she said.
With the gym, the school will also be able to hold after school clubs and nightly activities, according to O’Dea.
With membership in the Merrimack Valley Catholic Basketball League, the school could also have home games on its own turf instead of leasing space at the Andover High School field house, O’Dea said.
“I’ve been here for 35 years as of September, and even before that, that has always been the piece of the package that we’re missing,” O’Dea said. “I think it’s been something we’ve been waiting for forever.”
The gymnasium is not the only upgrade facing the campus in the coming months. Because of the size of St. A’s school property, the church had to purchase property next door just so it would have enough space for the gym’s footprint, according to Gori.
To move forward with its plans, St. Augustine Parish bought a piece of property on School Street along St. Augustine’s Drive, which included .663 acres of land and a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home for $675,000, according to Gori.
The school plans to keep and use the house in the future, though it has barely started discussing how.
“We’ve just barely started to dream about that,” Gori said. “One of our long-range plans is to bring the early-education program onto the main campus. Right now, that’s housed in two halls below St. Augustine’s Church on Essex Street.”
In the meantime, the school plans to rent the property out for residential use, according to Gori.
With the purchase, the school will also be able to expand its staff parking space out back. Currently built for 20 parallel parking spaces, the newly built lot will support around 40 cars parked horizontally, according to Gori.
The gym construction is expected to start in July and take around eight months to complete. A ceremonial groundbreaking will take place at the school just before the end of the school year, according to Gori.
Of the $1.9 million needed to build the gym, the school has around $700,000 built up so far between money saved over the years and recent fundraising efforts, Gori said.
Along with continued fundraising efforts, the school will cover a portion of the construction’s cost through a loan with the Archdiocese, according to Gori.
“They’ve been watching the fundraising as it has been going on, and they’re pleased with what they see because it’s an indication of the strong, enthusiastic support there is here for the project,” he said.