By Callie Gay

Continuing in the long-standing tradition of dedication to the importance of education begun by the Racine Dominican sisters more than 150 years ago, leadership at St. Catherine’s in Racine hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 22, to officially open their newly constructed SC Johnson STEM Lab and Perez Makerspace.

The lab, made possible through a generous donation of $500,000 from the SC Johnson Foundation, marks the official start of phase III of the school’s “Our Time is Now” campaign, which began in 2017. In this phase, the entire north side of the third floor of the building was gutted and remade into a space that can accommodate the student’s growing desire for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes.

The third floor now includes the SC Johnson STEM Lab, physics classroom/lab, physical science classroom/lab, and the Perez Makerspace. It replaces old, outdated labs that lacked the ability to accommodate full classes. Starting this year, students will be able to take a wide variety of classes, including introduction to engineering design, principles of engineering, introduction to computer programming, and principles of biomedical science.

Bishop Richard J. Sklba, a 1952 St. Catherine’s graduate, was unable to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he welcomed the 50 attendees, all kept socially distant from one another, by video conference. He offered a blessing for the new space and the children that would learn and grow from it, and he spoke about his own time at the school.

Brenda White, president of Siena Catholic Schools of Racine, and Tim Riedl, principal at St. Catherine, each spoke briefly about the “Our Time is Now” campaign, and the hope they have for its next few years of growth.

Bill and Catherine Perez, longtime supporters of St. Catherine’s High School, were in attendance to cut the ribbon for their newly minted Perez Makerspace. Bill Perez is the former CEO of Nike and Catherine Perez taught at the school for a decade.

Jim Ladwig, senior director of global community affairs at SC Johnson, cut the ribbon on the SC Johnson STEM lab before small groups were toured around the new spaces, and attendees were given the chance to see parts of the building that have been renovated and the areas the school hopes to target in phases IV and V.

Phase I included a new gymnasium, followed by Phase II that provided a new roof and tuckpointing for the school. Along with the STEM lab, Phase III will mean renovated first-floor bathrooms that are sorely in need of an update. In Phase IV, the school hopes to build above the library and provide new girls bathrooms on the second floor, new locker rooms, updated athletic spaces, and new biology and chemistry labs. Phase V will mean a new chapel, new secure entrance and office space, a new elevator, and will move the art classrooms out of the basement to the first floor, creating a fine arts wing, and updates to the third-floor bathroom.

The school expects to spend about $12 million total on renovations to maintain its place at the cutting edge of technology in education and help provide students with the opportunity to thrive in a changing and technologically evolving world.

In gratitude, Brenda White, president of Siena Catholic Schools said, “It is with great honor and privilege that we dedicate the SC Johnson STEM Lab and the Perez Makerspace for the benefit of our St. Cat’s students — our Angels of today — and decades of students to come. Spaces like these allow for the innovative teaching and learning that we expect at St. Catherine’s. So many people have generously made these new spaces a reality, for which we are all so grateful.”