Students get look at new Catholic school

The following article is a re-print of Students get look at new Catholic School by Travis Williams. All photos contributed by Matt Gentry of The Roanoke Times

BLACKSBURG — Anna is really looking forward to drinking water at her new school, next fall.

“I’m really excited because then I don’t have to kneel or sit on the ground to try and get water,” the St. John Neumann Academy fourth-grader said.

Multi-level water fountains are just one feature of the private Catholic school’s new 20,000-square-foot complex on Yellow Sulfur Road that Anna and her classmates toured for the first time this week.

It looks small on the outside, but when you walk in it’s humongous, said Anna’s classmate, Quinn.

The building’s first bell is scheduled to ring for all of the school’s preschool through eighth-grade students in August, said school Director Julia Wharton.

Along with the new water fountains, the school will contain 16 660-square-foot classrooms, a multipurpose room, to be used as the school’s first gym, auditorium and cafeteria, and the school’s first chapel.

“So if you get stressed you’ll be able to go and talk to the Lord,” Quinn said.

Wharton said the entire project, including the 8.5-acre campus, cost $4 million, which was provided by private investors and built by Roanoke-based Lionberger Construction.

Currently the school, which began with 17 students in 2003, is located in a rented space near the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center — a facility that has been maxed out by the school’s 115 students.

Wharton said the new space should allow for as many as 250 students and should expand many of the extra curricular offerings at the only Catholic school between Bristol and Roanoke.

“Right now we really don’t have any space other than classroom space,” she said.

Despite the structure’s new offerings to the students, Wharton said she’s most excited about what they will bring to the building.

It’s never been about the buildings, it’s about the children and students and everything that gets breathed into it, Wharton said.

“They’re so full of ideas of what they want to see in a new school, that’s the exciting thing,” she said.

When asked, several of the students made clear what they most hope to see at the new facility.

“More kids can come and we can have more friends,” fourth-grader Mariana said.