by Joe Bollig
LENEXA — It’s not every day that you see an archbishop enthusiastically breaking down the wall of a Catholic school.
But that’s what happened here in Lenexa during the St. James Academy wall tearing down ceremony on March 24th.
No, the Archbishop had not gone rogue – the destruction had a purpose.
Sporting golden gavels, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and St. James President Andy Tylicki gave Sheetrock a few knocks behind the counter in the old media center — it’s the library for you people elderly.
Then the Archbishop and Tylicki passed their tools to four young people representing the students, who also took their swings.
The event, which also included a benediction, was to ceremonially begin the conversion of the old media center into the Center for Media Arts and Rhetoric, as well as space for campus ministry, IT, career exploration and other office and multi-use spaces.
“This is a first for me,” Bishop Naumann said. “I have never seen a wall break down. A revolution, but not a breaking of the wall. If I understand correctly, you are going to have a school without a library. It’s the 21st century. [Students] carry their library with them on their computers. And that space will be reallocated. . . to help train our students to be able to communicate the truth and bring the truth of the gospel to others and to create space for the most important part of St. James, which is our campus ministry.
Renovating the 5,200 square foot space will cost just over $1 million and will be complete by August. Funds for the project have been raised. After the completion of this first phase, a second phase of campus improvements will be carried out in 2023, namely the renovation of the existing space for the new Spark Academic Support Center.
The architect is Gould Evans Architects of Kansas City, Missouri, and the general contractor is Straub Construction Co., Inc., of Shawnee. Dan Himmelberg, archdiocesan director of real estate and construction, helped the school plan the project.
Until now, the school had to make do with cramped and insufficient spaces. It was logical to renovate the media library.
“It was a really underutilized space,” said Sam Rockford, chief innovation officer at St. James. “We try to be careful. We had a lot of space that we didn’t use without great intention.
But the problem was not only the use of space, but the new uses themselves.
“We’re in our 15th year at St. James,” Rockford said. “As we look to the future of education, we know that technology will play a big role. It is important for us to understand how this future fits with the mission of St. James.
“So the programs we’ve selected for these spaces blend the mission of St. James with the new educational landscape,” he said. “A lot of schools are leaning heavily towards STEM programs. What we’re trying to do with these new spaces is take what we think is best suited to St. James and our educational ethos and the align with new efforts in education.
Tylicki was excited about what the school would do with the renovated spaces.
“We are so excited about the renovation of this space and bringing ministry closer to the chapel campus,” he said. “They’ve been in the closet for 13 years and now they’re going to have their own space. We’re able to move our counselors from an area where there wasn’t good student traffic to a more centralized area on the side of the administrative suite.
“We believe that the Media Arts and Rhetoric program we are about to create will enable our students to learn to consume media and produce media that will focus on our school’s mission and our faith.”