Ground broken for new Notre Dame School of De Pere
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Students donned yellow kid-sized hard hats, and church leaders took up iconic gold shovels to symbolically break ground for the new Notre Dame School of De Pere.
However, the ground has been broken wide open for weeks, and construction is well underway.
Crews from Miron Construction are digging out the area that was at one time Notre Dame Elementary School’s playground and parking lot.
The school will house about 330 students from preschool through eighth grade, with room for 120 more.
It will combine the current Notre Dame Elementary at 100 S. Huron St., and the Notre Dame Middle School at 221 S. Wisconsin St., into one building.
Both schools will be razed, along with the Father Tony Dolski Parish Center and a former convent.
The new school is slated to be finished in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“They’re on an aggressive schedule,” said Marv Wall, project manager for the construction. “School has got to start on time next year, so timing is critical.”
The three-story, 87,000-square-foot school will be light-filled, with lots of windows, said Notre Dame Principal Molly Mares.
Younger students will be on the first floor and older ones on the upper floors.
Mares said a prayer room on the first floor will feature stained glass windows from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which stood on the site until the 1990s, when it was torn down and the parish moved to Ledgeview.
Above the prayer room will be a second-floor library, and above that, a third-floor art room.
“This design showcases how our school is built on a foundation of faith, then knowledge and finally using our God-given talents,” Mares said.
Combining two schools into one will consolidate resources, but won’t result in fewer staff, Mares said.
The schools already share an art teacher, Spanish teacher, technology coordinator, librarian, music teacher, physical education teacher and principal.
They also share a lunchroom, with middle schoolers walking to the elementary school cafeteria.
Wall said construction crews struck a building foundation beneath the playground at the north end of the property facing George Street, between South Huron and South Superior streets.
They’re trying to determine what it might have been.
Several iterations of the church and its assorted facilities, such as rectories, convents and schools, have resided on or very near the site since the mid-1800s.
Catholics of Dutch, German, and Belgian heritage broke away from the Catholic church led by those of Irish heritage and formed Immaculate Conception Parish, which later became St. Mary’s.
A few weeks ago, school officials unearthed a time capsule buried 68 years ago.
“It’s interesting to see how different things were in 1951,” Wall said.
It contained a hand-written history of the church, along with many references that would be of interest to long-time parishioners, Wall said.
But he said he won’t reveal the rest of the contents until November, for the 150th anniversary of St. Mary’s Church, which is the previous name of Notre Dame.
The Wisconsin Historical Society lists the elementary school, which is the former St. Mary’s School, as an example of Art Deco architecture because of its canted front.
It was built of hand-cut limestone with a smooth-cut stone front in 1951, with a 1960 addition.
The red-brick middle school, formerly St. Francis Xavier High School, was built in 1924 in the Neoclassical style of architecture and added onto in 1960.
It’s estimated the new school will cost $18 million to construct.
In addition to the school, the rebuild includes a new parish center to replace the Father Tony Dolski Center.
All told, it’s about a $27 million gift.