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Pinecrest Academy breaks ground on new Lower School
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Pinecrest Academy students Chase Featsant, from left, Evie Marovic, McKaylie Featsant and Ethan Tam turn dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for the school's future Lower School building on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

The first ones to lift the shovels at Pinecrest Academy’s groundbreaking ceremony for its new Lower School building on Friday were not the school’s administrators, or the project’s architects, but rather a group of four students.

Chase and McKaylie Featsant, Evie Marovic and Ethan Tam knew the private Catholic school was raising money for the facility, so they each separately decided to chip in.

With plastic yellow construction hats on, the four Lower School students and their parents had the honor of turning the soil first on the initial phase of Pinecrest’s Capital Campaign, the school’s ambitious plan to augment and expand the campus.

The 18,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar building is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019-20 school year and will include an administrative suite, health clinic, chapel and 13 classrooms for Pinecrest’s 191 students in first through fifth grade, replacing the module-style facility that has been the Lower School’s home since 1993.

Lower School Principal Madeliene Flanagan hopes the new building will enable Pinecrest to bring their classrooms into the 21st century with updated technology and teaching methodologies.

“It’s just hard to have a 21st century classroom in a module,” Flanagan said. “We feel with the new building that we can give our students the opportunity to … be able to collaborate, develop more creative thinking skills, to grow intellectually in a place where there’s no limits.”

Flanagan and others had been waiting a long time for Friday. Flanagan was a teacher in the Lower School at Pinecrest when it opened in 1993. Over the years, she changed roles, from dean of academics to curriculum coordinator to vice principal to her current role, and in the meantime Pinecrest built brick-façade campuses for its middle school and high school students. The Lower School remained in modules.

When Pinecrest developed a master plan for school expansion in 2014, the majority of parent feedback focused on building a permanent home for Lower School students. That possibility became more feasible this past spring after a donor offered to match $500,000 of all funds raised from March 1 to May 1. Pinecrest met that goal, which prompted another donor to contribute an additional $500,000. More contributions came in, including nearly $70,000 from Pinecrest’s staff of almost 90 teachers, according to Flanagan.

By May 1, the school had raised $2 million, enough to break ground on the $5.6 million project.

“Some of these teachers, they’ve been around for 20 years,” Pinecrest Director of Development Charlene Dougal said. “For them, it’s this dream that they’ve been waiting for. It’s finally a reality.”

Dougal said Pinecrest encountered plenty of obstacles to raise money: a recovering economy, turnover in school leadership and a dip in enrollment.

“To all of us, that’s just another miracle of God confirming he wants this school here,” Dougal said.

On Friday, the entire student body, along with school staff, supporters and several founding families, gathered outside next to the new Lower School construction site. Fr. Matthew Kaderabek, the Lower School chaplain, blessed the grounds. Dougal, Flanagan and others made statements. Students recited prayers.

When they all left, workers returned to their equipment and got back to work.