Years of dreaming, planning and fundraising are about to come to fruition.
Organizers plan to break ground Dec. 12 on Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Okatie, the first Catholic high school in the area.
"It is so amazing," said longtime organizer Helen Ryan. "It's the best holiday gift I could get."
The school, slated to open next fall, will be on 70 acres off S.C. 170 near the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence.
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At first, a two-story building of 30,000 square feet and an all-purpose athletics field will be built. Eventually, that building would house the high school, and other buildings would be added for middle school students, along with playing fields and a gymnasium.
The school plans to serve about 120 students in seventh through ninth grades when it opens next fall. The school's principal, Christine Paul, said a 10th grade might be added if at least 15 sophomores are accepted.
About $8.5 million of a $12-million fundraising goal has been met, and it includes a $3 million gift. The first phase of construction is expected to cost about $7.5 million.
Ryan, co-chairwoman of the capital campaign and former principal at Hilton Head Island High School, said fundraising is ongoing. She added that building the school might help attract more donations.
"Once something physical is established, people can say, 'Hey, it really did happen,' " Ryan said.
Paul started as principal in September. She has established a school budget, overseen the final building plans and spread the word about applications, Ryan said.
Paul said she's held five meetings for interested families in recent months and will hold more in January. Applications have trickled in, and more are expected by the end of January. Registration is scheduled to begin Jan. 25.
The school plans to serve families throughout the quickly growing Lowcountry Deanery, which stretches from Hilton Head Island to Walterboro and includes about 8,100 Catholics. Ultimately, about 500 students could attend the school, and one grade will be added each year until the school serves seventh through 12th grades.
Acceptance will be based on a student's academic record and willingness to participate in an education that is "infused with Gospel values," Paul said. The school is open to students of all faiths.
The school will emphasize technology and offer college preparatory curriculum. Students won't sit in desks in rows, with the teacher at the front of the class. Instead, rooms might include space for small groups or one-on-one instruction, Ryan said.
Paul, who most recently was the principal of Aquinas High School in Augusta, Ga., said she's looking forward to the school being built, staff being hired and classes beginning."It's the opportunity of a lifetime to create a school from scratch," she said.