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St. Paul, county's oldest Catholic school, is renewed


The corridors of St. Paul Catholic School recently were filled with excitement in anticipation as a newly renovated school prepared for a new term.

Renovations included the latest technology with gadgetry to boot.

Born during the Great Depression in the fall of 1930, the school stayed much the same until 2006 when long-overdue renovations began and were finished just days before school began this past Monday.

How does a school get built during tough economic times?

"Through people willing to sacrifice. People believe in St. Paul. When they give, (St. Paul) gives back," said Elizabeth Fulham, principal at the parish grade school.

St. Paul Catholic School, at 1900 12th St. N, was Pinellas County's first Catholic school and was originally founded by six sisters of St. Francis, a religious order that provided Catholic nuns as classroom teachers during that time.

Today, only two sisters from the Order of St. Francis remain at St. Paul to mold young minds.

The current gymnasium used to be the church. The original ceiling has been preserved and the original doors were replicated for the renovation.

Some of the original, old brass lighting fixtures have been restored and remain today. The terrazzo hallway floor is the same, only brilliantly polished, preserving the cracks of old age.

Even the bricks on the exterior of the school were saved and used as part of the new construction.

"It's so nice now, it's great, " says Betsy Alonzo, a 16-year veteran teacher of math and social studies. Her middle school classroom and all of the other 18 classrooms are state of the art, with every teacher having his or her own laptop.

Each classroom is equipped with Smartboards, a newfangled replacement for the old chalkboard.

This new teaching tool allows interaction between teachers, students and parents and is very much like a giant computer touch screen that projects an image of the teacher's laptop computer onto the six-foot long Smartboard. Teachers can also e-mail the students and parents exactly what they accomplished in class or to the students who stay at home due to illness.

Each Smartboard costs $2,500, but they eliminate the use of dry erase and chalkboards. In an attempt to "go green," school authorities decided to get rid of these tools of the past and to utilize new, high-tech ideas and equipment to make the classrooms more environmentally friendly.

During times of inactivity in the classrooms, the overhead fluorescent lights automatically turn off. They turn back on when motion is detected. In a way, God is going green here at St. Paul. Fulham says they "are caring for God's creation."

All of the monies raised for the renovations came from dedicated parishioners. The target goal from the capital campaign was $2-million, which was exceeded — with money still coming in. Some people have pledged to pay over a period of up to five years, Fulham said.

Shawn Fernald of Fernald Construction has been the contractor for the renovations, and his children attend the school. The student body is up this year, with enrollment at 325 students.

St. Paul, county's oldest Catholic school, is renewed 08/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 1:19pm]
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