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New Notre Dame School of De Pere ready for students

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – This 2020-21 school year is the first for the new Notre Dame School of De Pere, 137 S. Superior St. (corner of George and South Superior streets).

The combined pre-kindergarten through eigth grade school replaces both the former Notre Dame Middle School, 221 S. Wisconsin St. (formerly St. Francis Xavier), and Notre Dame Elementary School, 100 S. Huron St., (formerly St. Mary Elementary), both of which were demolished this summer.

“We’re looking forward to bringing together these two communities,” said Molly Mares, principal of Notre Dame School of De Pere, at a recent tour. “It will be nice to have everyone under one roof.”

Mares said 338 students will attend the three-story, 90,000-square-foot brick and glass school.

Notre Dame School is part of the Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) system.

It and a new parish center for St. Francis Xavier Church is part of a $27 million gift from De Pere natives, Jim and Miriam Mulva, who attended Catholic schools in De Pere.

Jim Mulva is a former CEO of ConocoPhillips.

The Mulvas have also pledged a $50 million cultural center not far from where the old Notre Dame Middle School stood.

The cleared site from the school and parish center will be used for parking for that project.

Construction on the school came together in less than a year.

The project broke ground last September for the new school’s site, on the former playground of the old elementary school, so it didn’t displace students.

After school ended for the year, the two old Notre Dames were demolished.

“It was a big undertaking,” said Jeff Brayton, project superintendent with Miron Construction. “We took a collaborative approach with architecture firms and subcontractors to get the job done safely.”

Peter Damsgaard, director of design for GROTH Design Group of Milwaukee, described making use of the available site.

“It’s in a tight urban space, so we had to build a little higher,” Damsgaard said.

Each of the building’s three levels is geared to a different education level, Mares said.

Middle school students are on the uppermost floor, Grades 2 to 5 are on the second, and the youngest are on the ground floor.

The building integrates stained-glass windows from the old St. Mary church that once stood on the site, as well as a stone from the old Notre Dame Elementary School, said Marv Wall, GRACE trustee and member of the construction site advisory council.

“We tried to marry the modern school with the historic features and traditions of the old school,” Damsgaard said. “Blending old with new presents challenges, but the outcome was worth it.”

The school’s second-floor art room features panoramic glass windows that run nearly the height and width of two walls, providing views to the north and west.

Some corridors have walls of glass that make being indoors feel almost like being outside.

Damsgaard said the design uses natural light to reduce reliance on electric lights.

Throughout the building are gathering spots, tables and seating areas where students can work separately or in informal groups for a change from sitting all day in a classroom.

Tiered stair-like seating adjacent to the staircase to the upper floors gives students a spot to relax or for a small group to listen to a speaker.

“We call it our learning stair,” Mares said.

A verse on a passageway wall corresponds with the school’s new address of 137 S. Superior St.: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Damsgaard said the building’s designers took into consideration the neighborhood nearby, including how they positioned the gymnasium.

“We tried to bury this big box of a gym in the center of the school,” rather than place it at the outer edge, he said. “We tried to be sensitive to the community around us.”

Classes started this week in person, subject to reevaluation if conditions change, although school officials declined to discuss COVID-19 further.

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