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New Regional Catholic High School To Be Built In Springfield

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The third largest city in Massachusetts will again have a Catholic high school.  Plans for a new school were unveiled today, more than four years after a tornado wrecked Springfield’s Cathedral High School.

After months of private study by the Springfield Diocese and public campaigning by advocates for a Catholic high school in Springfield, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski Friday made the much-anticipated announcement of the site he selected.

"After much thought, prayer and consideration I have decided to pursue construction of the new Pope Francis High School on Surrey Road in Springfield," he said.

The new high school, which is thought to be the only one in the United States named for the current pope, will be built on the site where Cathedral High School stood for more than a half-century. The June 1, 2011 tornado left the school in ruins. Classes were moved to a former elementary school the Diocese rented in Wilbraham.

An architect is already working on the design for the new school, which will have classroom space for 450-500 students. It is tentatively scheduled to open in 2018. 

The new high school is the result of a merger between Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic High School, which was announced in February.   Diocesan officials were concerned that a standalone Cathedral could no longer survive because of steady enrollment declines over the last decade.  Holyoke Catholic is in a former elementary school in Chicopee.

Rozanski said dozens of sites were considered for the new high school. It came down to a choice between Surrey Road in Springfield and wooded land owned by St. Stanislaus Parish off Memorial Ave. in Chicopee.

" There were few substantial differences between each site under consideration. The factor tipping the scale was that Surrey Road is owned by the Diocese," he said.

Credit WAMC
Bishop Mitchell Rozanski announces the site for Pope Francis High School and unveils the school's mascot, logo, and colors.

Acquiring the site in Chicopee would have added $2-$4 million to the project cost, according to Rozanski.  The new school will cost an estimated $45-$50 million. It is being paid for with an insurance settlement and $27 million from FEMA.

Springfield city officials breathed a sigh of relief after Rozanski’s announcement.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno insisted it was vital the new high school be built on Surrey Road to complete the city’s recovery from the tornado.

" This is the last piece of the puzzle for tornado rebuilding," he said. " Everything else has been rebuilt or we've made announcements that shovels are going into the ground."

Much of the middle class East Forest Park neighborhood grew up around Cathedral High School, which when it was built in 1959 was the largest Catholic school in New England with more than 3,000 students.   Ward Seven City Councilor Tim Allen said his neighbors in East Forest Park will be thrilled to have a high school there again.

" Many neighbors built a strong relationship with the school. We've missed that for four years, and we will miss it for a couple more, but knowing it is coming back gives hope," he said.

Cathedral alumni and parents waged a public campaign that included rallies, lawn signs, and bumper stickers in an effort to persuade Rozanski to rebuild on Surrey Road.  Al DiLascia, head of the Committee for Cathedral Action, believes the grassroots effort made the difference.

" There would not be a new school today if it were not for our committee. That is the bottom line," he said.

Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos said in a statement that he respects the bishop’s decision and hopes the new high school is a success.

Rozanski Friday also unveiled the mascot, colors, and logo for the new high school.  The mascot will be the Cardinal. The school’s primary colors are red and charcoal gray.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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