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Academy of Our Lady to break ground Dec. 11

Academy of Our Lady will reach a milestone Dec. 11 on its journey to a new high school campus for girls. At 9:30 a.m., Archbishop Gregory Aymond will celebrate a Mass at Immaculate Conception Church, and a groundbreaking will follow at 11:15 a.m. at the new site nearby at 5655 Westbank Expwy. at Barataria Boulevard in Marrero.

  “People are very excited,” said Salesian Sister Michelle Geiger, school principal. “They want the best here for the girls on the West Bank. There is a lot of joy that the archdiocese is helping make this become a reality. There is a lot of excitement and a lot of hope. And, the girls are excited because it offers them even more possibilities.”
Modern amenities
    The state-of-the-art campus will be on 22 acres, have 120,000 square feet and include eight buildings housing 35 classrooms, five science labs, a healthcare lab, a 1,000-seat regulation-size gym, a culinary arts kitchen, a performing and fine arts building, a library/media center, a student leadership center, athletic fields and an activities quad, an 80-seat chapel and a prayer garden.

    The new campus will further the Salesian philosophy of successful education by combining teaching, prayer and recreational activities.
    “I think the key to Catholic education is that Christ has to be the center,” Sister Michelle said. “That’s why for us, the chapel is so important.
    “We are here for the formation of the individual, the formation of leaders who can bring our values to a society that desperately needs them. Education is a part of that. Our Catholic social teaching takes place in the classroom, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is found in meditation in the chapel. That’s why the chapel is so key to us.”
Funding for the project
    The Archdiocese of New Orleans has provided the majority of the funding – $30 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money – for construction of the state-of-the-art school. Federal restrictions prohibit use of this money for religious purposes.
    To secure additional financial support for the new campus and buildings – such as the chapel, which is not covered by FEMA money – Academy of Our Lady has launched the “Founded in Faith, Rooted in Excellence” campaign.
    Sister Michelle said the campaign was launched with the help of West Bank Catholic church parishes and by a sizable contribution from Msgr. Ray Hebert, who was pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish from 1986-2002, and often assists at Academy of Our Lady.
    “He is such a good man,” Sister Michelle said of Msgr. Hebert. “He was pastor and has a love for young people. Whatever he can do to help the young people, he will do.”
    The idea to build a new campus for an all-girls’ school developed after Hurricane Katrina when the archdiocese merged Archbishop Blenk and Immaculata high schools, two all-girls’ schools on the West Bank, and opened Academy of Our Lady in 2007.
Collaborative design
    Salesian Sister Maria Colombo, then-principal of the new Academy of Our Lady, worked with the archdiocese to find the appropriate spot for the new school and sent teachers on exploratory visits to other new high school campuses in the United States to figure out the best design. From their ideas, architects Burgdahl and Graves, and Sizeler Thompson Brown Architects devised the current blueprints.
    The plans are ready to go, awaiting a contractor to be chosen for the project. Hurricane Isaac delayed the contractor bidding process by two weeks, but, even so, Sister Michelle said the project is on target for completion by the opening of the 2014-15 school year.
    Contractors interested in bidding on the project must attend a mandatory pre-bid conference Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. at Academy of Our Lady. Sealed bids and proposals will be accepted through Jan. 8.
Anticipation high
    Craig Kirtland, director of institutional advancement, is overseeing the building of the new facility and says excitement is mounting on campus. 
     “It’s almost like, do we have to pinch ourselves that it’s finally here?” he said, giving kudos to the faculty, students, alumni and the community for their patience on the project. “It’s been very gratifying for our whole community.”
    The Academy of Our Lady was able to share the news of the ground-breaking and its future with potential students and their parents at its Oct. 18 open house.
    While Academy of Our Lady is extremely proud of what it provides now for students, Kirtland said the school anticipates a jump in enrollment due to the positive feedback he’s heard about the new campus.
    “The notion is students are comparing high schools,” Kirtland said. “We are now in a small campus with gated facilities. In less than two years, it will be brand new everything (and) have all the things that our competition has.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion