ASHTABULA COUNTY -- A group of generous alumni and friends have purchased a new building for St. John School.
Since early summer, dozens of volunteers have been moving the contents of the original St. John High School in Ashtabula to the new location in Saybrook Township. The expect to be ready when classes begin on Tuesday, August 28.
"There's some big stuff to move but everybody's been coming together, working together," said eighth grader Michael Leonard, who was among the students, parents, teachers, and alumni pitching in on Friday.
An elementary school will be added to the new high school location as well, moving from the current building on the Our Lady of Mount Carmel campus on East 21st Street in Ashtubla.
"We believe this is a transformative moment for the school, the community, and all of our students," said Sister Maureen Burke, SND, principal of the new combined elementary and high school.
She told WKYC the newly located school will offer school choice to families throughout Ashtabula County.
"It's about growth, it's about opportunities, it's about a belief in Catholic education. I'm a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Our heritage is Catholic education."
She explained that the future of St. John High School, which for the past 30 years has been known as Saint John & Paul High, had always been in doubt year after year, and that the move should solidify Catholic education in Ashtabula County.
The new location is in a 75-year-old public elementary school. It was purchased by alumni and donated to the school. Also donated were countless hours of labor, along with materials and expertise.
"There's always been discussion about making St. John's succeed," said alumnus Larry Laurello, who helped lead the effort. "All of us as alumni looked at this as the next step. We looked at it and said we can make it work."
Laurello said the repair costs at the current high school location were prohibitive. The building is more than 140 years old.
"Between the roof and the heating system and windows it had to be a million and a half dollars that had to be put into it."
Repairs to the existing elementary school would have added to the cost.
Among those working all day long at the new location on South Depot Street in Saybrook was JoAnn Styles, who taught for years at St. John's, and actually helped establish the original high school in 1953.
"All of us went door to door then for nickels and dimes to build that school," she remembered. "It was home, but just a buiding. Now we are here. The community wants us here. We've struggled many years, but we're here and we're going to stay."
Among the students pitching in was junior Christopher Stein, who will spend the last two years of high school in the new building.
"Right now it seems there's a lot of work here, but as a Herald community we will accomplish getting it done," he said confidently.
The move has been under consideration for some time, but when the building became available a few months ago, the alumni moved fast and bought the property.
"The first two weeks sister and I looked at each other and said I hope they show up," Laurello admitted, "and they really have. The community has really gathered around this whole thing. They're really excited about it."
Enrollment has grown by 10 percent in the last week and is nearly 300 with the pre-kindergarten program being full. Applications were still being taken.