After more than two years of work, Immaculate Conception School in Columbia is ready to welcome students to its new home.
On a preview tour ICS Principal Mike Kish provided to the Republic-Times, he explained the philosophy behind the building.
“Everything I try to do in the school is for the kids, so the key message is function over form,” he said. “You can build the most beautiful building in the world, and that’s all good, but what is it used for? We’re only using it for seven hours a day, so it’s all about function.”
The 166-year-old Catholic school broke ground at its new location on June 24, 2017.
It was supposed to be finished in January, but weather delayed the school’s opening until the start of this school year.
“The weather got us this year,” Kish summarized. “It was our nemesis.”
The $11.6 million, approximately 53,000-square-foot structure that can educate around 550 students is now about 99 percent complete, Kish said.
There are a few small things still to do inside, and some outside work like building soccer fields, erecting a statue of Mary and installing a playground remains.
Throughout the building process, the school made compromises to stay within budget, as the original estimate put the cost at over $14 million.
Even with those concessions, Kish said the building checks most of the items off the school’s wish list.
“We’re really pleased that even though we shrank it, we got a lot of what we wanted,” he said. “We were able by being good stewards and good planners to keep the bigness we wanted, the freshness we wanted and function over form.”
Kish highlighted several aspects of the building that improve its efficiency, make things easier or save money.
That includes its state-of-the-art cooling system that draws air from other rooms to conserve energy, a lighting system that shuts off automatically after a certain period of inactivity, copiers located throughout the building to prevent unnecessary walking and classrooms that are wired with sound so teachers can use microphones or speakers.
“It’s going to be super high efficiency,” Kish said of the building.
The school also saved money by parishioners volunteering their time to perform some of the work.
Kish also pointed out the ample space in the school, with wider halls, 25 classrooms, a plethora of storage space for teachers and students and the 37 acres the school sits on.
Some of that land will be used for soccer fields and multiple playgrounds, but some have no assigned use to allow for future expansion.
“It just gives us a lot of opportunities,” Kish noted.
The Rev. Carl Scherrer also highlighted the options this new school provides in a Sunday bulletin entry.
“This is the reason why we chose to call this new building our ‘Catholic Education and Activity Center,’ because indeed that is what it will be used for: the faith education of our children and a whole host of other parish and school activities, for youth and adults,” he wrote.
That will be easy to do because the two buildings, located at 411 Palmer Road, are connected by a three-foot thick fire wall, the door of which automatically closes if there is a fire emergency to prevent both structures from sustaining damage.
Despite the buildings being connected, once school starts people can only enter ICS via the front door, which they will have to be buzzed in through, because all other exterior doors will automatically lock.
In other security features, the school’s classroom doors can also lock from the inside and have a cover pulled down over the door window.
Finally, Kish estimated cameras can see all of school, inside and out, except for the bathrooms and locker rooms.
“Security has been pretty paramount for us,” he said. “In this day and age, it’s what you do when you start from scratch.”
Parents and students will be able to see all those new features – and others like sinks in all classrooms, a spacious gym and a band room with, in Kish’s words, “recording studio quality” acoustics – when school starts Thursday.
Kish said that is when he will really appreciate the new facility, even though he can already see how it will make education easier.
“The ‘wow’ factor is the kids,” Kish said. “To me, this is just a bunch of building material put together in a great way. But when the kids come here, then it’s alive. Then it’s a school.”
An official dedication ceremony for the new school will take place 11 a.m. Sept. 8 with Bishop Braxton scheduled to attend.