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New Aquinas Academy classroom building expected to open this fall

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Deborah Deasy | Trib Total Media
Deborah Deasy | Trib Total Media
Deborah Deasy | Trib Total Media
The new high school at Aquinas Academy should be completed by the end of October.
Deborah Deasy | Trib Total Media

Halls equipped for socializing and classrooms designed for flexibility are just a few built-in amenities taking shape inside Aquinas Academy's new $4.8 million classroom building in Hampton.

The two-story, red-brick Georgian-style structure now blocks passing motorists' views of the academy's adjacent classrooms in former St. Catherine School on Hardies Road.

In coming weeks, new seat cushions will top rows of cubby holes — for stashing gym bags — along the new building's hallways.

Already installed are new ceiling tracks for sliding walls that will make it possible to turn one large classroom into three smaller ones.

“I believe by the end of October we'll be in,” said Leslie Mitros of Pine, head of school at Aquinas Academy.

Aquinas Academy's high school students primarily will use the new building, but kindergartners through 12th-graders will use the building's new music and art rooms.

“I am very excited, “said Mike Flynn of Richland, high school co-director at Aquinas Academy.

“Projects like this bring us a lot closer together,” Flynn said about the new building's impact on staff and students.

“To get something like this accomplished, it's been a lot of work,” Flynn said. “It's been a lot of joy.” At the new building's main entrance, visitors will step onto “an elegant ceramic floor,” Mitros said. “It has a marble look to it.”

Earth tones with blue accents eventually will color the building's air-conditioned interior.

“It's going to be an elegant interior, actually, all the way around,” Mitros said. “Classrooms are going to be carpeted.

“We've tried to create a nice, social atmosphere,” said Mitros, who came up with idea of placing cubby holes with cushioned seats along the building's hallways.

Founded in 1996, Aquinas Academy is the only Catholic preschool, elementary school and high school owned and operated by lay people in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The academy operates in all the new and old buildings on the former grounds of St. Catherine of Sweden Parish at 2308 West Hardies Road.

In August 2013, Graziano Construction Co. broke ground for the new building, with plans to complete the project by June 2014.

But severe winter weather and a few “utility mishaps,” Mitros said, delayed the project.

Few interior walls were finished when Juan Mata, director of admissions, and Mike Burchill, assistant head of school, led an Aug. 12 tour while Graziano workers and subcontractors continued their work.

The new building will add about a dozen classrooms to Aquinas Academy's current 23.

“This is the arts floor,” said Mata, launching the tour in the school's basement, where students soon will find two new music rooms and an art lab.

On the second floor, students will find a new $200,000 pair of labs for science classes.

Mitros expects to welcome more than 50 new students when classes resume Sept. 2.

“The number of new students is about the same as it has been every year,” Mitros said. “We'll be opening with about 350 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.”

More than $4 million in donations will pay for the new building, including donations from three individuals who each donated $1 million.

Last month, parents of students received a letter about the fund drive from Peter Blume, president of the school's board of directors.

He wrote that the school has received $4.2 million in pledges toward the $4.8 million building, with $3.45 million already contributed.

“We continue to work on bridging as much of that funding gap as possible, so that we can minimize additional borrowing costs and, in turn, minimize future tuition increases,” he wrote.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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