Peoria Notre Dame H.S. is building for the future

Photo Caption: Peoria Notre Dame plans to build a new school and athletic fields on Peoria’s north side, bordered by Allen Road, Willow Knolls Road and Kellogg Golf Course.

By: By Jennifer Willems

As the 150th anniversary of Catholic secondary education in central Illinois approaches, officials at Peoria Notre Dame High School are taking steps to ensure that it will remain strong well into the future.

The school is in the silent phase of a capital campaign to raise funds for a new school and athletic fields that would be built on Peoria’s north side, between Allen Road and Kellogg Golf Course on the east and west and Willow Knolls Road on the south. The land, which includes a gift of 44 acres from the late Maury Cicciarelli, is currently being farmed with the revenue going to Peoria Notre Dame.

The goal of the capital campaign is $15 million, according to Charlie Roy, principal.

Phase I, which includes athletic fields for football, baseball, soccer and tennis and a gymnasium with three basketball courts, could begin as early as next spring, depending on how the campaign goes. The plan is to have the first phase completed in 2013.

“It would be the anniversary of secondary education in Peoria. The Academy of Our Lady was founded in 1863. We trace ourselves back to the founding of the Academy,” Roy said. “It will be 150 years for secondary education and 25 years for Notre Dame.”

Also playing a role in that rich educational heritage is Spalding Institute, which was founded in 1899. The Academy of Our Lady and Spalding Institute came together in 1973.

A third Catholic high school, named for Archbishop Gerald T. Bergan, was built at 5105 N. Sheridan Road in 1964. In 1988 Academy of Our Lady/Spalding merged with Bergan High School to form Peoria Notre Dame High School.

Classes have been held at the former Bergan campus ever since.

“When Bergan was built in the 1960s, you didn’t have as part of high school life all the different athletic options that exist today,” Roy told The Catholic Post. “When this school opened you didn’t have three levels of baseball — freshman, sophomore and varsity. You didn’t have men’s and women’s basketball and three levels of each.

“The needs of the student population in terms of all the co-curriculars and athletics that go on, the campus wasn’t really designed to handle that,” he said.

As a result, Peoria Notre Dame is renting practice space all over town, including pools from District 150 and basketball courts at the Dream Center and the YMCA.

“You have everybody going all over the city for practices and meetings,” Roy said. “What would be nice is for the first phase to be done and to have everything in one place.”

In addition to saving money on rent, there is a potential for other income when Peoria Notre Dame has its own facilities.

For example, the school rents space for football games from District 150 and gets the gate revenue in return, but none of the concession revenue. Roy noted that in high school sports that’s where most of the money is made.

While starting with the athletic fields and facilities was a practical decision, no one has forgotten why Peoria Notre Dame exists.

“It’s not that we believe athletics are the most important part of the high school experience. They’re not,” Roy emphasized. “The mission of our school is the most important thing — our Catholic identity and our mission.”

The decision to build a new school was not made because the academic program is suffering, but because it is solid, he said.

“I would say when you move you always want to move from a point of strength to make the future better for the next generation,” Roy explained.

“The reason you look at moving everything is because this building was built to last 50 years. You’re going to see ongoing maintenance and remodeling costs if you decide to stay,” he said. “We know . . . that those costs are essentially the same as moving to a new facility.

“If you do it right, build well and move to a new facility, then you have a home for secondary education for the next 50 or 60 years — or 100 years, if it’s built right,” Roy said, noting that long-term viability is the goal. “It’s not because we can’t get the pottery wheel to work.”

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