This summer, Dominican High School will undergo its first-ever facelift.
Last June, the 59-year-old school in Whitefish Bay embarked upon the “Knight Vision” campaign, the most ambitious capital campaign of its history, which boasted a goal of $5 million to fund a comprehensive remodeling plan that includes transforming the Silver Spring entrance, repaving the parking lot, renovating the auditorium, overhauling the building’s infrastructure and heating systems and increasing the school’s endowment fund.
By October 2014, the $5 million goal had been met, and has been surpassed by $400,000. The project – expected to be completed in December – has been in the works since 2013, when a feasibility assessment suggested $10.5 million in upgrades and improvements to the building.
“It’s definitely time,” said Dominican High School president Leanne Giese of the renovation. “It’s just going to make such a huge impact because the Dominican that everybody knows is getting a facelift. We opened in 1956, and we haven’t really done any significant changes to our structure, which includes the original boiler. The Dominican that you saw that was built in 1956, if you look at a picture of it from the day it was built and compare it to today, there have been no changes.”
There have been only minor internal structural updates to the building – including new bleachers, lockers, ceilings and light fixtures, and a modernization of the third-floor science rooms.
Financial support for the campaign has been “threefold,” said Giese, coming from alumni, past parents and current parents, as well as foundations including Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE), the Windhover Foundation and the Fleck Foundation.
One of the most welcome changes for the faculty and staff will be the relocation of the school’s front office to the entrance off of the Silver Spring Drive parking lot. It’s where most visitors enter the school, even though the main offices are located closer to the Bay Ridge entrance.
“Even when you look at it with a security focus and the requirements of schools today, we don’t have that first glance when you (visitors) walk in,” said Giese.
The first phase of construction began May 26 and will end Aug. 30. Giese predicted little to no interruption for students and staff during the 2015-16 school year, and said monthly all-school liturgies will be held off-site at neighboring St. Monica Church.
The school will also upgrade its facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, making improvements to the accessibility of the main entrance, auditorium and restrooms. Construction on that phase of the project will begin Aug. 31. The auditorium, which still has the original seats, will get new flooring and seating, with some additional upgrades to lighting and sound, and will be blessed and reopened on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The school’s endowment fund was increased by $500,000 due to the success of the Knight Vision campaign, and that money will benefit the roughly 48 percent of Dominican students who receive some form of need-based aid.
Construction began officially with a groundbreaking ceremony held at the school on Monday, May 4, where faculty and staff gathered with students, current and past parents, alumni and representatives of project architects Eppstein Uhen and construction managers CG Schmidt. Many wore kelly green in a show of school pride.
“In 1954, this ground was broken, and 61 years later we are making history that will ensure the success of our future,” said Giese while addressing the crowd.
Sr. Mary Howard Johnstone, vicaress of the Sinsinawa Dominican order, which has sponsored the school since its inception, gave the blessing at the event.
“It was 61 years ago that we received a call to come and to serve here at Dominican High School,” she said. “For the first years, our sisters lived on the top floor, and we always had to wait for the athletic teams to finish their practice and to finish their showers in order that the sisters could use the showers and go back to their bedroom. There’s lots of history here at Dominican.”
Greg Uhen of Eppstein Uhen and a former Dominican parent, also spoke at the groundbreaking. Giese called him “the driving force” behind the renovation.
“We’re just so happy and delighted this day has finally come,” he said. “Five years ago, my son Danny came here as a freshman, and I have to say, day in and day out, we learned that the culture here at Dominican is very, very special, and it’s something to be very proud of. I can tell you that it’s not the bricks and mortar. Bricks and mortar don’t create a culture. People create a culture.”
He acknowledged Eppstein Uhen design architect Chris Michaud, a Dominican High School graduate.
“Chris has been doing all the design work on the inside of the facility and all of the beautiful renderings that you’ve seen. We’re proud of him and I hope you are, too,” he said.
While speaking with the Catholic Herald, Giese expressed that the enthusiastic reaction of parents and alumni to the Knight Vision campaign shows the readiness of the Dominican community to see upgrades in the physical structure of the school.
“Right after we had the kickoff in June, people wanted to make appointments right away to talk about it,” she said. “There was just this positive momentum of, it’s time for this, it’s the right time for Dominican, and let’s go.”