Our Lady of Hope Catholic School hasn’t even seen its first day of classes in Kansas City, yet it has already gone through a host of changes.
First, the school was originally to be located in the old Derrick Thomas Academy charter school building. Under that plan, Our Lady of the Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe parochial schools were to combine into one, 200-plus-student kindergarten through eighth grade urban Catholic school.
But when the deal to buy the old charter school building at 201 E. Armour Blvd. fell through, the Bright Futures Fund, which raises money for schools in the diocese, decided to put the combined school in the Our Lady of the Angels building instead. Our Lady of Guadalupe closed.
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Here’s what’s important: Our Lady of the Angels is now Our Lady of Hope, and it looks a whole lot different on the inside.
With the financial support of Lamar Hunt Jr. and his wife, Rita, and through their charity, the Loretto Foundation, the 60-year-old school building has been renovated to give students a freshened space when they return to classes Monday.
Foutch Brothers Inc. — the developers planning to convert Kemper Arena into a two-level hub for youth and amateur sports — is the company doing the work inside the school.
“It’s transformative,” Hunt said as he walked through renovated rooms in the building Thursday.
“We decided, let’s take the asset that we have and make it as good as it can be,” said Hunt, who is on the board at Bright Futures. “It is hard for me to even remember what it used to look like.”
For the past two months, the sound of drills and hammers have filled the two-story school building at 4232 Mercier.
Besides a fresh coat of paint throughout, all 13 classrooms will get new doors, windows and better lighting. School bathrooms got new stalls, and all the floors were refurbished. All the electrical work was redone. A reception area was added to the main office, and three new spaces for art, music and a science lab also were added. Area private schools donated supplies to stock the new rooms.
What fifth-grade teacher Steve Garcia is most excited about, though, is the addition of central air conditioning.
“Previously, in May and September it could get up to 82 degrees in here, and kids just started melting,” Garcia said. “It’s hard to keep kids engaged when it’s that hot. I would bring Popsicles in for them.”
Jeremy Lillig, executive director of Bright Futures, said he likes the decision to renovate the old Our Lady of the Angels building.
“We were able to preserve the midcentury architecture,” he said. “We discovered new uses for some existing space. It’s symbolic, That’s what we want our kids to do, discover their potential.”
Last year, Our Lady of the Angels served 154 students: 80 percent Hispanic, 11 percent African-American, 5 percent white and the rest Asian or mixed race. Nearly all the students come from low-income households.
Our Lady of Guadalupe served 69 students: 68 percent were Hispanic, while the others were white or mixed race. About 97 percent are from low-income households.
The new Our Lady of Hope school will continue with the same level of diversity, Lillig said.
A commissioned bronze statue of the Virgin Mary will stand just outside the school’s front doors, but the work on the school won’t end there, Lillig said.
Bright Futures hopes next to acquire the three-story convent on the north side of the school. The nuns who had been living there moved away in May. Phase two would expand the school — a library and community service offices — into the convent space.