|This architectural rendering of the St. Bernard Academy campus shows the new entrance of the school, which will be moved from 24th Avenue South to Bernard Street. The $3.2 million expansion project will include an additional 18,000 square feet of classroom, multi-purpose and office space. The project is scheduled to start this summer and be completed in the fall of 2016, when the school marks its 150th anniversary.|
When Chuck Sabo became the Head of School at St. Bernard Academy in 2006, the school, even though it was one of the oldest in Nashville, was still somewhat of a “best kept secret” among the city’s educational options.
Today, however, St. Bernard is bursting at the seams and ready to expand.
“We’ve just about maximized our creativity in terms of student learning spaces,” Sabo said. Larger classrooms have been split in two, underutilized space behind the stage has been turned into classrooms, and some front offices have been re-purposed for tutoring and counseling space.
To better accommodate its 340 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, St. Bernard is preparing to break ground on an 18,000-square-foot expansion and renovation project. Included in the plans are seven new classrooms, a large, multi-purpose room for assemblies and Masses, a student support center and updates to space for fine arts, administration and after-care services.
The $3.2 million expansion of St. Bernard’s historic campus will enable SBA to keep class sizes small, around 12 students each. That ensures a lot of one-on-one interaction between teachers and students, a hallmark of St. Bernard. “The classrooms are the priority that drive the boat,” Sabo said.
The expansion will also enable St. Bernard to step up its music and arts programs and host larger diocesan-wide meetings and events, Sabo said.
Some other key elements of the expansion, which is the second one since this Hillsboro Village campus opened in 1960, include:
• Moving the administrative offices and shifting the front entrance of the school to from 24th Avenue South to Bernard Street.
• Adding a new student support center, which will feature rooms dedicated to tutoring, guidance and counseling.
• Incorporating the latest technology into new classrooms, designing them to be flexible enough for group study, independent reading, and interactive learning.
The expansion will also help ease demand on the school’s gym, which is the only large space in the building, and is constantly overbooked, Sabo said. “I think we have 17 teams vying for practice time,” Sabo said.
The school’s after care program, which serves about half of the student body, will also have more breathing room with the addition of the large, multi-purpose space.
St. Bernard has experienced an enrollment boom in recent years, growing from 225 students in 2006 to 340 this year. This has corresponded with the city’s growth as a whole. “As more new families are moving to Nashville, St. Bernard comes up among the leaders,” Sabo said. The school has worked hard to raise its profile in recent years, and the efforts have paid off; SBA is a “best kept secret” no more.
A lot of that is thanks to positive word of mouth publicity, especially among the Vanderbilt University community. “We have a strong network connection with Vandy,” Sabo said, which is the largest private employer in Nashville. About half of the SBA student body has a parent affiliated with the university, located just a few blocks away.
St. Bernard’s expansion is funded in large part by the school’s recently completed Building Our Future capital campaign. The campaign exceeded its goal, raising more than $1.4 million from the St. Bernard community over the past year.
“We started the campaign with a large goal in mind, both in terms of the project and the dollars, and the response of our families, faculty and staff, alumni and friends has exceeded our expectations,” said Sabo.
Even with the expansion plans, Sabo said, there are no plans to expand the enrollment cap beyond 350 students. “People like the intimacy of the school,” he said. “That’s one of the things that’s special about St. Bernard.”
Architectural design plans for the St. Bernard expansion, which were recently revealed to the public for the first time, were completed by Nashville-based Bauer-Askew Architects.
The project is set to break ground this summer and be completed by the fall of 2016, as the school begins its 150th anniversary celebration.
St. Bernard Academy is a Catholic, independent co-educational elementary school serving more than 340 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. It was founded in 1866 by the Sisters of Mercy; since 1988 it has operated as an independent Catholic school in the Mercy tradition. More information is available at www.stbernard.org.