By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
WEST POINT — On the first day of school in their new elementary building, Holy Trinity teachers wore grey T-shirts with the message “It’s a great day to be a Crusader” printed on the front in school colors.
While other schools have completed renovations and additions, this is the first new Catholic school building to be built in the diocese in more than 50 years.
For Principal Michael Sheerin, Aug. 23 wasn’t just a great day. “It was the most perfect first day of school I could ever imagine. You couldn’t have scripted a better day.” The mild, sunny weather and the presence of a bald eagle swooping around the school added to the feeling of the day. “People were filled with the spirit of the new school.”
Librarian Alice Hoenig, who also serves as a bus aide, said the students were “just totally excited” when they saw the new building. “They were even excited getting on the bus this morning!”
To start the day, students and parents gathered in St. Mary Catholic Church next door to celebrate Mass with Bishop Thomas Zinkula. Afterward, everyone stood in front of the school while Bishop Zinkula blessed the new building.
Two-and-a-half years ago, the school kicked off a $6 million campaign to bring the aging campus up to modern standards and to prepare the 170-year old school system for future generations of students. The previous elementary building lacked modern security measures and was not fully handicap accessible.
School officials knew raising the funds would require support beyond what school parents could contribute, given the small community setting. Fundraising would require support from the local parishes in West Point, Houghton, St. James and Fort Madison as well. “If they’re not for it and behind it and rallying for it, it’s not going to happen,” Sheerin said.
To date, roughly 1,200 people have contributed to the campaign, he said. Bishop Zinkula told the congregation at Mass that it was encouraging and heartwarming to hear about the high level of support for the new school building, especially from people with no family ties to the school but who wanted to support Catholic education. “It’s neat for me to hear about that and see that, as the bishop of the diocese.”
Sheerin also gave credit to everyone who helped keep the schools going over the past 170 years.
Construction for the new building began in mid-2018 and finished earlier this month, just in time for an Aug. 9 open house. The new building, with its secure entrance, shatterproof windows, elevator and multiple staircases and exits, offers “peace of mind” in case of a disaster, said Brenda Graham, the school’s marketing director. Staff offered input throughout the campaign. New features available to teachers include flexible classroom furniture, a media center and maker space, and a separate sink and bathroom in the kindergarten area so students can remain in close proximity to the teacher. Another convenience is a band room that connects to the stage so equipment can be easily moved.
Head cook Malissa Cain said she loves the bright, clean and modern kitchen at Holy Trinity Elementary. The old kitchen was in the basement, where “I never saw daylight until I left!” The new kitchen receives plenty of natural light from the building’s front doors. Sandwiched between is the cafeteria, which includes flooring detail Sheerin adores: a cross inlay.
With the new building, Graham hopes that children in the West Point area will continue having the opportunity to receive a faith-based, modern education for decades to come. “It’s just so exciting to know that we can continue the tradition of Catholic education (while being) progressive, stepping up and even ahead in modern teaching methods.”