Students at Sacred Heart School in East Grand Forks will be welcomed with a brand-new $3 million addition and playground when classes start Sept. 3.

The single-story, 10,865-square-foot addition has been completed after about a year under construction on the school’s southeast side.

An official ribbon-cutting ceremony, set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, with Mayor Steve Gander and local Chamber of Commerce officials, will be followed by a “back-to-school night” event for all students and parents at 6 p.m. at the East Grand Forks school.

The addition houses six classrooms for grades 4 through 6 and preschool, and a commons area for collaborative teaching and other school functions. The commons also will be used for a new after-school child care program and by the parish for activities such as meetings and Bible study groups, said Carl Adolphson, the school’s president.

The Engelstad Family Foundation donated $2.5 million to the Sacred Heart Foundation to launch the project. Betty Engelstad, now of Las Vegas but a 1950 alumna of the school, grew up on a farm near East Grand Forks and still has relatives in this area.

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The donation was contingent on the Sacred Heart Foundation raising $500,000 for the project by Dec. 31, 2018 – a goal that was exceeded by about $200,000, said Dennis DeMers, executive director of the foundation.

The addition has been dedicated to and named for the Sisters of Mount St. Benedict, based in Crookston. Members of their community served as teachers at the school, which was started by Sacred Heart parish in 1918, DeMers said.

“The school wouldn’t have been possible without free labor from the Sisters of Mount St. Benedict,” he said. “We had that free labor for about 70 years.”

Thoughtful design

The new classrooms include features such as flexible seating and computer-integrated smartboards with touch-screens.

Kindergarten teacher Kristin Kasprick, who is starting her second year of teaching here, is excited about the new addition.

“Oh my gosh, it’s wonderful,” said Kasprick, a 2009 graduate of the school and daughter of a longtime teacher here, Colleen Stinar. “It’s great for the school because it means more and more families are interested in Sacred Heart. It’s awesome.”

In the new commons area, most of the long room is filled with light from a floor-to-ceiling window featuring the Christian cross, with a traditional heart of Jesus image at its center. In each corner of the window is a Benedictine symbol; the Bible verse, “That in all things God may be glorified,” begins at the top and ends at the bottom.

Every aspect of the window design – from colors to wording to symbolism – was determined by the Sisters of Mount St. Benedict, Adolphson said.

Nearby, a large brightly colored mural of Christ in the midst of children and another of Christ, as a boy, with Mary and Joseph occupy opposing walls. These and another depiction of Jesus as the good shepherd were painted by Karen Bakke, a Fargo artist, for this space.

Members of the local Icon Architect firm designed a graphic treatment on the walls that darken in color as one moves further from the light of the cross, Adolphson said.

Outside the new addition, a new playground has been constructed with all new equipment and a unique surface, made from shredded rubber tires, which “gives” a bit when stepped on.

“The kids are so excited for that playground,” Adolphson said.

Growth inspires change

Additional classroom space became necessary as enrollment has increased in recent years, Adolphson said. “We came to a point in our growth where we either needed to do something or (turn away students).”

“Our goal was to have two sections at every grade level, with 20 to 25 students in each section,” he said.

In pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, enrollment was 438 in the 2017-18 school year and 450 in ‘18-19. For the coming school year, enrollment is expected to be about 475, said Jen Koller, director of marketing and admissions for the school.

Enrollment has increased by 45 percent since 2013, Koller said, and, with the addition, the school can now accommodate up to 530 students.

Tuition revenue has increased 41 percent in the past four years. The atmosphere of a smaller school draws parents to Sacred Heart, Adolphson said.

“Your child is not a number here,” he said. “We get to know students and their families.”

The school welcomes all students, not only Catholics. Last year, about 24 percent of the students were non-Catholics, Adolphson said.

The faith-based curriculum, and the influence of St. Benedict, who lived nearly 1,500 years ago, is evident throughout the school.

“We are forming the whole person – mind, body and soul,” said the Rev. Matt Schmitz, chaplain at the school. “Virtue formation and fostering a relationship with God.”

Scholarships are available for those in need, Adolphson said. “We never want Sacred Heart to not be an option because of finances.”

The desire to preserve and support this educational option for families gave rise to the decision to conduct a major fundraising campaign for the school, DeMers said.

The campaign to build the addition is part of the “Seize This Moment” campaign to raise $7 million to sustain the school for the next five or six years, he said. Investments also will be made in scholarships and endowments, programs and the maintenance fund.

“We have received the better part of $6 million in pledges and actual payments,” DeMers said. “We have a goal of $7 million and we hope to achieve that in the next two years.”

“People have been extremely gracious,” he said, “and are committed to making Sacred Heart a great place for kids to go to school and a Catholic community to be a part of.”