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Hampton-based Aquinas Academy plans expansion

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Aquinas Academy is outgrowing its space in Hampton, so the Catholic school plans to construct a 16,000-square-foot building that will be used mostly by high school students. It will be connected to the current school on West Hardies Road. The project will cost $4.2 million and include two state-of-the art science labs. This is an architectural rendering of the planned building.

Aquinas Academy is bursting at the seams.

“Aquinas has been blessed with exceptional growth in its enrollment over the last five years, so we are just completely out of room for our current enrollment,” said Peter Blume, co-founder of the Hampton-based Catholic school and president of its board of directors.

To accommodate its enrollment growth, Aquinas plans to nearly double its academic space by constructing a 16,000-square-foot building with new classrooms, mostly for high school students, and two state-of-the-art science labs on the academy's West Hardies Road campus, he said.

Founded in Hampton in 1996, the school started with 13 students, he said. There are 360 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Construction on the $4.2 million expansion project will start in July, if Aquinas receives approval from Hampton officials, Blume said. The project would be done by June 2014, he said.

Aquinas has submitted a revised site plan to the township for approval, and a decision likely will be made June 26, said Martin Orban, Hampton's land use administrator.

Blume partly attributes Aquinas' enrollment growth to its reputation for high academic performance by students.

“We have a really great head of school and faculty and, you know, that's what parents put a great value on,” he said.

Aquinas' goal is to eventually have 600 students enrolled, Blume said.

In 2002, Aquinas bought its 13-acre property, which included four buildings, from St. Catherine of Sweden Roman Catholic Church. Before that, the academy had been renting space from the church.

More than half of the academy's current space is in a building for kindergarten through eighth grades, and the rest of the space is split between three other buildings, Blume said. The high school is on one floor of the chapel.

Aquinas is an independent, private school, but its religious curriculum is subject to the approval of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Blume said. Tuition ranges from $1,150 a year for 3-year-olds in pre-kindergarten to $9,031 for high school students.

The construction project will be paid for with a capital campaign that raised about $4 million, some of which is in the form of pledges, over the last year and a half, Blume said.

Aquinas plans to borrow $2.7 million in tax-exempt revenue notes through the McCandless Industrial Development Authority to use for building and equipping the new building; the interim financing is needed because some of the pledges were for payments over a three-year period, Blume said.

The development authority approved the note issuance May 28, said Dean Richardson, the authority's solicitor. A public hearing on the issuance will take place Friday, but an elected member of the town of McCandless still must approve the note issuance, he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662.

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