After almost a year of construction and a decade of planning, a long-awaited Catholic middle and high school is finally nearing completion and plans to open in January in Okatie.
Workers are applying the finishing touches to John Paul II Catholic School this week -- laying the last floor tiles, finishing the wiring, moving in furniture.
"This has been in the works for 10 years," said Ross Kuykendall, head of the school's facilities committee. "So now we finally have something for everyone to see and something brick and mortar to show."
Construction on the two-story, 28,000-square-foot building began in February. The budget for the school on S.C. 170 was $8.5 million, Kuykendall said.
It originally was to open in the fall for the start of the school year. But Kuykendall said permitting delays altered the construction schedule. Classes have been held temporarily at Okatee Baptist Church about two miles away on S.C. 170.
The school currently serves students in grades seven through nine.
Kuykendall said school officials hope to receive the certificate of occupancy soon and officially open just after winter break.
The building will accommodate about 300 students, with plans to add a grade each year through 12th grade.
It will be the fifth Catholic high school in the state, according to Sister Pamela Smith, secretary of education for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston. It will serve the growing Lowcountry Deanery, which stretches from Hilton Head Island to Walterboro, she said.
It will have several main feeder schools: St. Gregory the Great Elementary School in Bluffton, St. Peter's Catholic School in Beaufort, St. Francis Catholic School on Hilton Head Island and the Cross Schools in Bluffton.
"We really tried to locate the campus centrally for all communities," Kuykendall said. "We'll have a large sign going up next month to let everyone know how special this place is."
Kuykendall said the school, designed by Charleston architectural firm LS3P, has 14 classrooms and four other teaching spaces. The classrooms have partition walls that can be removed and study spaces to create a flexible environment for teachers, he said.
Each room will also have a projector, and each student will receive a tablet computer.
"The school will have a very full academic program and be very well-equipped with different types of technology for students," Sister Smith said.
The school also has a large media center, a small prayer chapel and a commons area to be used for lunches, meetings and church services.
But the school has plans beyond the first building -- an entire campus is planned on the 70-acre property.
Next to be constructed are an athletic center and sports fields. Kuykendall said the school will soon begin raising the $3.5 million needed for those additions, with the aim of starting construction sometime next year.
A smaller one-story building to accommodate about 100 seventh- and eighth-graders also is planned, along with a small free-standing chapel, Smith said.
The students were able to walk through their new school before going on winter break, Kuykendall said.
"The kids all were very excited and were jumping up and down (in) the halls," he said. "They kept saying, 'Thank you so much for this beautiful school,' and they can't wait to come back to it."
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