St. John Paul II Academy teacher Charmaine Jansen chats with students Natalie Pinto, Jennette Walters, Alexander Lifvenborg and Marchus Berner. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Capital campaign for South Surrey Catholic school launches at $1 million-plus

New school hoped to open for 2021-2022

A capital campaign for a new Catholic high school in South Surrey launched with more than $1 million of its goal already in the bank.

Fundraising lead Lawrence Prout and principal Michel DesLauriers said the funds – which are in addition to $1.25 million raised through enrolment deposits – is testament to the support and enthusiasm for St. John Paul II Academy.

“People have donated who have no direct relationship to the school,” Prout told Peace Arch News in a recent interview.

“It’s really gratifying.”

The new school was announced by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver in September 2017, described as “spearheaded by a core group of professional and extremely dedicated parents, led by Troy Van Vliet.”

READ MORE: New South Surrey Catholic school eyes 2018 opening

READ MORE: New Catholic school opens temporary space in White Rock

It opened at its current location, in renovated space at Star of the Sea community centre in White Rock’s Five Corners District, a year later with a class of 17 Grade 8s and a vision to open by 2020 on 10 acres in the 18200-block of 24 Avenue.

DesLauriers said the first phase of the school’s campus – with administrative offices, a chapel, classrooms, gymnasium and sports field – is now anticipated to open for the 2021-2022 school year, when the current Grade 8 students enter Grade 11. Signage was posted at the site last month.

Exactly when shovels will go into the ground is dependent on fundraising, and Prout – who was hired to organize and mount the capital campaign – is optimistic.

“We’re doing well in the fundraising side, considering where we started,” he said.

Total cost of the three-phase project is pegged at $55 million. Nearly half of that, $30 million, is for phase one.

DesLauriers said enrolment commitments are needed from 100 families before work on the new school can get underway. So far, more than 60 families have pledged the $25,000 per-family deposit.

Of donations received so far, three comprise the majority of funds; the largest was $500,000.

DesLauriers said the school will be the first Catholic high school to be built in Surrey in 25 years – and is much-needed. The only other, Holy Cross, is “bursting at the seams” and has a waiting list, he said.

St. John Paul II Academy’s enrolment for the coming school year has tripled that of its inaugural year, at 45 Grade 8 and 9 students. The plan is to add one grade to the Star of the Sea location each year until the new campus is ready.

DesLauriers said much effort was put into renovating the temporary site, “right from the get-go, to make this look and feel like a high school.”

Flooring was replaced, walls and ceilings were painted, lockers added and more.

He acknowledged there are challenges associated with having such a small school population; among them, the limited opportunity for students to forge the relationships expected at the high-school level.

Benefits, he said, include increased individual attention from teachers, and that students can “embrace and be a part of every opportunity in the school.”

A shining example of the students taking that to heart hangs in the upgraded gymnasium: the school’s first sports banner. The cross-country championship memento is autographed by each of the six team members.

DesLauriers said while challenges remain as the capital campaign forges ahead and the school continues to grow, he’s bolstered by the support shown so far, by students, parents, the community and more.

“It’s a real leap of faith to come here and be part of something they can only see in conceptual drawings,” he said.“We’ve been just blessed in so many ways.”

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