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Queen of Angels buys school

| Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004

Thirteen-year-old Olivia Heidenfelder is leaving Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School one year too soon.

The eighth-grader is graduating next spring, one semester before some 300 students come back home to North Huntingdon Township.

On Tuesday, Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, and Norwin Superintendent Dr. Richard Watson, jointly announced the sale of the Middle School East building in North Huntingdon Township to four parishes for $750,000. Norwin School Board approved the sale Monday night.

"I'm glad it's happening. I have a 3-year-old sister who's in preschool, and she's going to have it," said the North Huntingdon teen.

In 1999, the student body was forced out of the St. Agnes school building in the southern end of the township because of structural problems. The school now operates out of the Immaculate Conception School, in Irwin, and Sacred Heart School, in Jeannette.

The Middle School East building, located on Main Street in North Huntingdon, will house both Queen of Angels school and a regional Catholic center.

The purchase was a joint effort between the parishes of Immaculate Conception, in Irwin; St. Agnes and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in North Huntingdon; and St. Barbara, in Harrison City. The Queen of Angels school was formed in 1992 when the parish schools of St. Agnes and Immaculate Conception merged.

The sale was a positive move for the district, the community and the diocese, Watson said.

"It's a win-win for all the parties involved. It keeps a historical building part of our local education community," he said.

The sale was a testament to the cohesiveness of the community and the local support for Catholic education, Brandt said.

"This is a belief in Queen of Angels school and its values. It's a testimony to the strength of the school and the local community's commitment to education," he said.

Monsignor John L. Conway, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church and a member of the Queen of Angels board of pastors, said there are long-range plans for the use of the building.

"The size will lend itself to invite other opportunities, like meetings and other pastoral activities, rather than duplicate services at parishes. It can be a place for athletics and gatherings for high school students," he said.

"We had all sorts of ideas. We just needed the space," said Marie Sonnet, Queen of Angels principal.

While some 300 students will be in the building in the fall, there currently are 878 middle school students.

"We're at capacity," said Watson.

The Middle School East building dates to 1914. Additions were constructed in 1937, but a fire in 1944 destroyed the original wing. A replacement wing was soon constructed, and the building became North Huntingdon High School until 1958, when it was renamed Norwin High School.

In 1965, a new high school was built on McMahon Drive, and the Main Street building became Norwin Middle School East.

The building most recently was renovated in 1986 and has no known structural problems, Watson said.

The new Norwin Middle School, located at the site of the former Middle School West on McMahon Drive, has a 900-student capacity.

Watson said the district and the diocese had been in negotiations about Middle School East for about a year.

Late yesterday morning, the student body gathered inside Sacred Heart Church, in Jeannette, after the official announcement was made at Norwin's administration building

Middle school teacher Judy Skoretz couldn't stop smiling in the church's vestibule as students assembled in the pews.

"They don't know why they're here. They just know the bishop is coming," she said.

Skoretz, one of the few remaining teachers from the original St. Agnes school, said the purchase of the Norwin building gives hope for the future.

"We're here, and we're going to grow," she said.

Cori Lucotch, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, said she was happy about the news, which wasn't a complete surprise to some students.

"I'm excited about. When they told us we were going over to the church, we kind of suspected it," said the North Huntingdon girl. Lucotch said she was in the first grade when students were removed from the St. Agnes building. She has been a student at the school since she was 3 years old.

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