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Meridian to get Treasure Valley’s first new Catholic school in 50 years

St. Ignatius Catholic School will be built on the ground of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian. Image courtesy of Holy Apostles Catholic Church.

St. Ignatius Catholic School will be built on the ground of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian. Image courtesy of Holy Apostles Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise will build its first new school in Idaho in 26 years when construction starts July 11 in Meridian on the St. Ignatius Catholic School on the grounds of Holy Apostles Catholic Church.

St. Ignatius will hold 470 students, grades pre-K to 8. It will also be the first Catholic school built in the Treasure Valley since St. Mark’s Elementary School opened in Boise in 1967. The diocese last built Holy Family Catholic School in Coeur d’Alene in 1990, said Jim Reed, superintendent of Catholic Schools in Idaho.

The diocese covers the entire state.

“This is a big deal,” Reed said. “It has created a lot of energy across the diocese. All the schools are excited. This is exciting that one of our team members is building a school. That rejuvenates development throughout the district.”

St. Paul’s Catholic School in Nampa is in the initial talks about building a replacement school at the new location of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, which opened in April 2013. All Saints Catholic School in Lewiston expects to build a replacement school within five years, Reed said.

A second Catholic high school is also under discussion. There is now one Catholic high school, Bishop Kelly, in Boise.  No location or timeline is in place for the new school. Bishop Kelly itself is planning to add classrooms to accommodate 1,000 students, Reed said.

Karen Mahoney and Jim Reed inspect the grounds where St. Ignatius Catholic School will be built. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Karen Mahoney and Jim Reed inspect the grounds where St. Ignatius Catholic School will be built. Photo by Teya Vitu.

The second high school could be in Treasure Valley or any of the larger cities in Idaho, Reed said.

“I think we are closer than we know,” Reed said about the second high school.

St. Ignatius is a project of the Holy Apostles parish, which has become the largest Catholic parish in Idaho since its establishment in 2001 with the merger of the St. Matthew’s and Holy Spirit parishes. The parish, with 2,900 families, raised the money ($5.5 million in the bank, more than $4 million pledged) for the $10 million project.

“Meridian is the second biggest city in the state. West Ada is the biggest school district in the state,” said Karen Mahoney, chair of the St. Ignatius advisory committee and project manager. “We don’t have a Catholic school in this area at all. We’re not meeting the needs of this area of Meridian, Eagle, Middleton and Star.”

Catholic children in that area now attend a variety of nearby public and private schools with no more than 10 percent attending one of the six Catholic schools in Boise and Nampa.

“What? That’s a trip,” Reed said. “Back in the day, it was not an issue for kids to come in from Nampa. It’s a bigger issue today.”

A school has been in mind for the Holy Apostles Catholic Church site since the diocese acquired the 25 acres at Meridian Road and Chinden Boulevard in 1997. The church grounds and parking fill only two-thirds of  the acreage.

Upon Holy Apostles’ opening in 2001, school talk shifted to converting the vacated St. Matthew’s in Meridian. That idea was then shelved until a feasibility study in 2011, Mahoney said.

“That was overwhelmingly positive,” Mahoney said.

The parish started a fundraising campaign, only to be stopped nearly at the outset when the diocese started a three-year campaign in 2012. That put a moratorium on parish campaigns.

“Their capital campaign is over. Then we kicked off,” Mahoney said.

CTA Architects of Boise designed St. Ignatius, The Land Group of Eagle did site work, and Wright Brothers is the general contractor at the 10-acre site south of Holy Apostles. The 56,000-square-foot school building will have two wings stretching out from a 5,500-square-foot central common area that will serve as a gathering place just beyond the lobby.

Instead of hallways, the wings will have what Mahoney and the designers call flexible space, adding up to a combined 4,800 square feet.

“Each classroom has sectional doors – a very nice garage door – so they can expand their classroom (into the hall space) based on the lesson plan,” Mahoney said. “Two classrooms can open up and work together.”

St. Ignatius will have 20 classrooms, each 900 square feet. The objective is to keep pre-K and kindergarten at 20 students or less per class and the rest of the grades at a maximum of 25 students, Mahoney said.

The school also will have a library, science lab, music room, two faculty work rooms and a kitchen plus two play areas and a large play field.

St. Ignatius is scheduled to open for the fall 2017 school term.

St. Ignatius will be the largest Catholic K-8 school in Idaho as the diocese is becoming bullish on new schools, a reversal of a 50-plus year decline.

Idaho in 1960 had four Catholic high schools and 24 Catholic elementary schools with 5,744 students. By 1972, the diocese contracted to one high school and 13 elementary with the student count dwindling to a low of 2,180 in 1980. The school count is the same now but enrollment is up to 3,183 across the state, Reed said.

The Treasure Valley’s Catholic schools all eclipse a half century (except St. Mark’s) with St. Paul’s opening in 1922, St. Joseph’s in 1925, St. Mary’s opening in 1948, Sacred Heart in 1958, Bishop Kelly in 1964, and St. Mark’s in 1967, according to Katie Kerby, spokeswoman at Bishop Kelly.

Note: This story was updated with Bishop Kelly expansion and St. Ignatius play filed information at 11:22 a.m. on June 9.

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.