Renovations Reflect Bright Future for Broome Co. Schools

| January 20, 2012

St. James School has undergone renovations to accommodate its new Pre-K through grade six student body.

By Dc. Tom Picciano

It might seem odd to keep a spider web in place following a building renovation. That is unless you’re George Clancy, principal of St. James School in Johnson City, NY. He’s been watching the spider for some time between a window and screen on a stairwell. But rather than destroy it, Clancy would rather continue to see the creature at work, repairing, maintaining and improving its delicate web.

The spider’s tireless work equates nicely to the work parents, volunteers, supporters and the Syracuse Diocese have put into the four Catholic schools in Broome County in the form of time, labor and dollars. These renovations and improvements have been vital to the schools, which have undergone consolidation and restructuring over the past two years to maximize enrollment, facilities and resources. The improvements serve as an outward sign of a new spirit of hope and renewal for Broome County Catholic schools.

There are a lot of interesting things to see at St. James, which has been well-maintained since it was built in 1934. A transition from a middle school to Pre-K through grade six meant much younger students were coming in, and the time had come for updates.

Renovations didn’t always come easy, however. “The walls are 14 inches thick, so it was an endeavor putting the sinks in the first floor classrooms,” said Rev. John Donovan, pastor of St. James. “There were two rooms we couldn’t renovate because of cost. We just couldn’t get the plumbing there without major excavation.”

Most years, one or two classrooms are painted, but, with the transition, the entire inside of the school got a fresh coat — classrooms, gymnasiums and hallways. Lockers for the upperclassmen were electro-statically painted green to match the colors of the Saints from Seton Catholic Central Jr./Sr. High School. “If you stood still, you got painted,” joked Donovan.

The “new” school came with the cooperation of the Catholic School system in an effort to centralize resources and maximize enrollment. Donovan stressed that the parish is taking care of the structural efforts, while the school system is charged with the instructional elements. Most of the several hundred thousand dollar price tag was paid for by the McDevitt Trust, and additional funding from parents and other supporters provided an outdoor play set, which the former middle school was lacking. In addition, St. James School now has SMARTboards to bring the internet and other computer technology to students. Teachers have laptops with a variety of capabilities, including the ability to enter student grades from the classroom.

On the lower level, workers had to paint over a mural created by last year’s eighth grade. Looking at the blank wall, Clancy mused that his own son was disappointed by the change. But the principal brightened thinking of students spending time in the art room down the hall. “It’s a new school. It’s a new generation. These kids will do something new,” he said.

Science Lab Aids A+ Education

Two miles away in Binghamton, NY, 100 seventh and eighth graders have come together to form a new middle school in a remodeled wing of the Seton Catholic Central High School building. There are new restrooms, an art room, a state-of-the-art science lab and new furniture for the classrooms. According to Principal Richard Bucci, feedback from parents and faculty has been “overwhelmingly positive” and seventh and eighth graders are fitting in well.

“They’ve really become a cohesive unit, as they move through the school. The way the timing is set, they have their own lunch period, their own gym period. They shift through the school at different times without have to be in the mix of upper classmen,” he said.

The new science lab is impressive. Students share workstations. Scientific models are in a glass-enclosed storage case, including one showing a body’s internal organs. A large SMARTboard dominates the front of the classroom. The entire room was equipped through a grant from the Mirabito Foundation.

“This is a family that has a real commitment and passion for Catholic education,” Bucci said. “They wanted to make sure that there were real benefits to coming here — the lab would be new, state-of-the-art and have everything necessary for an A+ education. They were very generous in their donation to make this project a reality.”

St. James School has undergone renovations to accommodate its new Pre-K through grade six student body.

“The School Is Really Alive”

Parents of students at Seton Catholic at All Saints in Endicott, NY, also have been working to improve the facility with $20,000 raised through an auction. They quickly went to work painting, landscaping and replacing carpet, while also making playground improvements, updating bathrooms and installing new cabinets.

“We were so happy to open with all of these improvements,” said Principal Angelo Tierno. “It really looks beautiful. The school is really alive.”

In addition, St. John the Evangelist School has seen updates to the more than 60-year-old building in Binghamton, NY. Now a Pre-K to grade six building, St. John’s Parent-Teacher Guild raised more than $10,000 for the transition. Classrooms were painted. Cupboards and cubbies were put together with the help of parents and scouts, and each room for younger students has a theme with a rocking chair and comfort area.

“Our school offers an environment conducive to learning,” said Principal Mary Ellen Kelly. “Teachers can teach, and students want to learn.”

A New Spirit

The four diocesan Catholic schools in Broome County have seen changes to buildings and student bodies, but such changes have been marked by a new spirit that’s reflected across the Syracuse Diocese, according to Christopher Mominey, superintendent of schools.

“I think that people really feel a sense of hope and confidence in a brighter future for our schools. My sense, as I travel through Broome County, is that we did the right things in this process, and that we are now seeing the results of many people’s hard work and dedication,” he said. “There is still much work to be done, but I believe with all of my heart that we are headed in a positive direction.” n

Dc. Tom Picciano writes from the Binghamton, NY, area for the Catholic Sun.


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