A couple of tall, neat stacks of brown rock and a few modest wooden structures are what’s left of the old 80-acre Oppenheimer family farm near the Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport.
In its place, construction crews in the last 18 months have erected what will be the first high school to be built by the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in more than 50 years.
Come fall, St. Michael the Archangel High School, at 2901 N.W. Lee’s Summit Road, is expected to be teeming with more than 350 students in grades nine through 12.
This week heavy equipment rolled about the dirt-filled landscape. The tops of hard hats worn by utility workers peek out from deep trenches where water lines were being installed.
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Inside, crews were busy moving steel and laying sheet rock to form the 24 classrooms, media labs, offices, cafeteria and massive gymnasium that will be housed in the 137,247-square-foot, two-story building, designed by Hollis and Miller Architects, a leading architectural firm for schools in the area.
A wooden ceiling, which begins outside as the awning over the school’s front doors, leads into a grand entrance and a massive deep staircase that school officials are calling the learning stairs. It’s where students will be expected to hang out, reading and conversing and even performing from time to time, said Jeremy Lillig, director of stewardship and development for Bright Futures Fund, an education fundraising arm of the diocese.
The site includes a 7.5-acre pond and straddles the border between Lee’s Summit and Kansas City.
When St. Michael opens it will have the capacity for about 550 students, but down the road the diocese expects to expand the school to house up to 750 students. Part of the expansion would include sports fields, a cross-country track that would circle the property, and an underground tunnel that would lead to a stadium.
St. Michael is surrounded by nine parishes and will also draw students from Archbishop O’Hara High School, set to close at the end of the year due to shrinking enrollment. O’Hara school is in south Kansas City.
The Lee’s Summit area, Lillig said, is fast-growing. The diocese is taking its school to where the students are.
“It’s exciting” Lillig said about the $32 million school construction project. “People don’t want a school to close. We become attached to things. But this is the most important thing the diocese is doing right now — opening this school and providing our students with a state-of-the-art facility that they haven’t had in a while.”
Lillig said that technology aligned with current trends will “allow teachers to do what they do even better.”
Like O’Hara, St. Michael will be a college preparatory school and offer advance placement for college credit courses.
A central area of the school will be the chapel designed by SFS Architects Inc.
Like the rest of the building, design plans call for the chapel to be awash in natural light that will flow through skylights. Elsewhere throughout the building, including stairwells, hallways and classrooms, are floor-to-ceiling windows.
The diocese has tapped the Rev. Richard Rocha, chaplain for the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Police Department, to serve as president of the new school. Jodie Maddox will be school principal.
Rocha told The Catholic Key newspaper that looking back on his career as an educator and former coach, he sees how God was preparing him to lead the new high school.
He said, “This investment by the church in the future of Catholic secondary education will serve our current student population at Archbishop O’Hara High School as well as a broad population of students from Kansas City, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Independence.”