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St. Mary's Central High School teachers and staff have gotten their first look at the nearly completed school in north Bismarck.

Plans for the school at North Washington Street and 57th Avenue kicked off in 2016, when local developer Ron Knutson and his wife, Ruth, donated 48 acres of land to Light of Christ Catholic Schools.

A capital campaign launched that same year brought in the $36 million needed to build the high school. Construction crews in April 2018 broke ground on the 150,000-square-foot facility.

Construction "is progressing," with the school set to open for the first day of classes on Aug. 21, according to Light of Christ Catholic Schools President Gerald Vetter.

The school's fine arts wing has been delayed until the fall, but Vetter said that will not impact students. Also, the opening of the 600-seat chapel has been postponed, he said.

Despite some delays, dirt on the school's football field will be replaced with turf this week, and asphalt and sidewalks are being installed, according to Vetter.

"We may not have plush grass to sit on this year, but there's definitely a light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Teachers and staff who toured the building on Tuesday marveled at the new space  — an upgrade from the old high school at 1025 N. 2nd Street, which was shared by middle school teachers, students and staff.

Teachers said they liked the open concept of the new high school, which has modern seating, swanky fireplaces and wood tile on the walls. A carving of the Virgin Mary at the main entrance of the school is the first image that will greet students when they walk in.

"It's a great blessing," school chaplain Rev. Dominic Bouck said of the school. "It's surreal."

The school has "breakout areas" outside the classrooms with chairs and couches that Principal Reed Ruggles said promote student collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

The school's academic center with classrooms around it provides a "collegiate feel" similar to a student union, Vetter said.

St. Mary's teachers said they're happy to have their own space, separate from the middle school, called St. Mary's Academy.

"Now (the high school teachers and staff) have a place to call their own," Vetter said.

Light of Christ Catholic Schools continues to see growth, with a projected 4.2% increase, or 51 students, this fall in prekindergarten to 12th grade, according to Vetter. Total enrollment is expected to reach about 1,400 students.

Vetter said they'll be able to accommodate more students at the new high school, which has a capacity of 525 students. This fall, 355 students are enrolled there.

"(The old high school) was crowded, but for a good reason. We were growing," Vetter said.

Light of Christ's capital campaign totals $46.5 million for the high school, maintenance at the old high school, which is now St. Mary's Academy, and additions at St. Mary's Grade School and Saint Anne Elementary School. To date, $43 million has been raised, according to Vetter.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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