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Staff photo by REID SILVERMANSt. Mary's Ryken High School student government officers, Heather Thompson, left, Jennifer Goodman, Daniel Goodley, Jessica Worster, Kayla DeOca and Maggie Sheehan take part with others in a groundbreaking ceremony at the school Monday marking the official beginning of renovations to the campus that include a 1,000-seat stadium and artificial turf field, new entranceway and parking lot and new athletic center.
St. Mary's Ryken High School is hoping an $8.5 million building and renovation project will move the school to a new level in preparing students for college.
With a quick sprinkle of holy water over a bank of dirt, the school's board of directors, administrators, student government members and others took turns Monday ceremoniously turning dirt as construction equipment rumbled in the background.
The old track is already mostly dug up and interior renovations have started in some buildings.
"It's a wonderful noise out here today," James Cornelsen, chairman of the school's board of directors, said of the construction equipment. "You'll think you're looking at the University of Maryland when it's done."
The school has finally begun construction thanks to years of work from administrators, faculty, students and many others, he said. The process to secure permits was complicated because much of the campus is located within the state's critical area, a 1,000-foot buffer protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The Leonardtown council voted unanimously last month to allow St. Mary's Ryken to issue $8.5 million in nontaxable bonds, that have to be repaid, to fund the first phase of the project. A fundraising campaign will start for the second phase, which includes an indoor sports complex, later this year.
"It's been a dedicated effort of all … to get here to this stage," Cornelsen said.
The two-phase project includes a new 1,000-seat stadium with an artificial turf field and eight-lane track, a new entrance and 300-spot parking lot, and an indoor athletic complex.
The field and track should be ready in about a year, in plenty of time for the start of the 2010 fall sports season, school officials said. The athletic complex will be built after that. "It's going to be exciting," said SMR boys lacrosse coach John Sothoron. The stadium and field will be "one of the finest facilities in all of Southern Maryland."
The school's outdoor athletic teams have had to struggle with fields full of potholes and a track that was not up to regulations. The turf field will put the Catholic school on par with others in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Addison Goodley just graduated from the school last month and will miss the opportunity to play on the new fields. He said his younger brother, Daniel, a rising junior, is looking forward to it, though. "It's a lot faster pace on turf," the older brother said.
Xaverian Brother Cornelius Hubbuch was principal of the school from 1968 through 1976, also a time of change at the school. During his first year the Xaverian brothers decided the school would no longer offer training for members of the order.
In the early 1970s the school was in peril and faced closure, he said. Under his leadership, the school's faculty worked to redefine Ryken and expand it from serving a small, local population into a larger, regional institution.
The student population of only boys grew from about 100 students to more than 400 during his tenure in the 1970s. The school also moved into some of the buildings at the lower end of campus where the brothers once were trained.
"It has grown and developed," over the last three decades, Hubbuch said. "We're at a place where we really want to expand and upgrade," once again, he said.
"I've always felt God really wants this school here," Hubbuch said.
That the school can take on such a project even in a recession shows great perseverance and dedication, he said. "They're doing a great job. It shows what the Catholic laity can do," Hubbuch said.
Other parts of the multi-million dollar project include an addition and new locker rooms and bathrooms at Paschal Hall, the original school building, and renovating music rooms and other fine arts rooms in Romuald Hall.