|Members of the St. Bernard Academy Board of Trust break ground on a new expansion of the school that will include new classrooms, administrative offices and a multi-purpose room that will accommodate larger school assemblies, events and performances. Excavation will begin in August just before the start of the new school year and construction should take a year, said Principal Chuck Sabo. The school plans to dedicate the expansion at the start of the 2016-17 school year as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of its founding. Photo by Andy Telli
When St. Bernard Academy celebrates its 150th anniversary in the fall of 2016, it will be opening the doors to a new era in the school’s history.
On Tuesday, May 26, the school’s board of trustees broke ground on a new expansion that will add seven new classrooms and a multipurpose room.
Excavation will begin in August just before the start of the new school year and construction should take a year, said Principal Chuck Sabo. “We’ll have our ribbon cutting at the start of our 150th year in the fall of 2016.”
Sabo is in his ninth year at the helm of St. Bernard, and enrollment has grown from 225 in 2006 to 340 today.
Sabo attributes the enrollment growth to “getting the word out to what we do and how well we do it, that’s the big thing.”
“It’s always had a good academic reputation,” he said. “We’re a Catholic school first and an independent school second. People still value Catholic education.”
St. Bernard will cap its enrollment at 350, Sabo said. That provides enough students at every grade level to support all the school’s extra-curricular activities.
The school could ease some of its space crunch by raising its student-teacher ratio, which currently is 11:1, but that would mean giving up one of its important drawing cards, Sabo said.
“We think that has a positive impact on education,” Sabo said of the low student-teacher ratio. “Teachers spending one-on-one time with kids in the classroom, I think, is pretty important.”
It’s also important to the parents who send their children to St. Bernard for its excellent academics, Sabo said.
About half of the families with children at St. Bernard have a connection to Vanderbilt University, which is close by, Sabo said. “The folks that work there certainly value education … so us having our class sizes like we do fits their overall goal.”
The addition, which will be about 18,000 square feet, will be built on part of the playground behind the current school building.
Besides the additional classrooms, the expansion will include: the remodeling of a student services suite with offices for the school counselor, tutors, nurse and other staffers; additional administrative offices; the relocation of the front entrance of the school from 24th Avenue South to Bernard Avenue; and a two-story multipurpose room that will accommodate larger school assemblies, events and performances, Sabo said.
The new multipurpose room will ease some of the demands on the school’s gymnasium, Sabo said, which is used for physical education classes, a host of extracurricular activities, and the school’s after-school care program, which serves about half of the school’s students.
With the multipurpose room, there will be more space available for fine arts exhibits and performances for the students, Sabo said.
Moving the entrance to Bernard Avenue is “going to help the traffic flow in the morning because so many Vanderbilt people use 24th as a cut through,” Sabo said.
Because of all the building activity in Nashville, the estimated cost of the expansion increased by nearly $1 million since the school launched its public capital campaign last August, Sabo said. The estimate is now between $4.2 million and $4.5 million, he added.
The capital campaign raised $1.4 million, Sabo said. “The target was $1 million, so we feel really good about that.”
The school will also use some savings it had on hand and the balance of the cost will be financed through Avenue Bank, Sabo said.
Architect Tom Bauer of Bauer, Askew and Associates architectural firm, whose children attended St. Bernard, has designed the new expansion. He also designed the school’s previous expansion. “He knows the ins and outs of the property from all his work there,” Sabo said.
St. Bernard is one of the oldest schools in Nashville, founded in 1866 by the Sisters of Mercy. In 1905, the Sisters moved the school to 21st Avenue South in Hillsboro Village and built the current school in 1960 to house the all-girls high school they operated.
In 1988, the Sisters of Mercy decided to close the high school and sell the facility. A group of parents of the elementary school formed a not-for-profit foundation and bought the high school building to continue operating the elementary school. In the years since, Sisters of Mercy have continued to provide faculty and staff for the school, maintaining a connection to the school’s history, Catholic identity and the educational philosophy the sisters helped instill.
“We’re proud of our association with the Mercy Sisters,” Sabo said.
The school has “a very colorful history,” he added. “This is another chapter. It’s very exciting to be part of it and still have Mercies around.”