St. Joseph Catholic School in Ost prepares for major expansion

The two-story brick schoolhouse in the tiny farming town of Ost served 62 students when the Renwick School District shut it down in 2004.

Six weeks later, the community, dedicated to education and God, reopened the school — now Catholic-run — with 83 students.

And it’s still growing.

St. Joseph Catholic School will break ground today on a new 15,589-square-foot school building and gymnasium, after receiving diocesan approval late last week to start construction.

The groundbreaking ceremony starts at 2:30 p.m. in Ost, located northwest of Wichita along the Sedgwick-Reno county line.

And again it’s those tied to the unincorporated town making the addition happen.

“It’s a fine school with good leadership and a great tradition, even though it’s only eight years old,” said Bob Voboril, superintendent of Catholic schools of the Diocese of Wichita. He noted that the school and its 123 students – preschool through eighth grade – are supported by about 125 families in the area who attend St. Joseph Ost Catholic Church.

“That entire parish community bands together to support Catholic education,” Voboril said.

About $100,000 worth of in-kind labor donations, such as plumbing and electrical work, are promised by parish members.

More than half of the $750,000 – the cost needed to construct the gym portion of the building – will be donated by Rusty Eck Ford owner Les Eck, an alumnus of the school.

The rest will come from fundraising and the school’s savings.

The new 80-foot-by-131-foot gym and three classrooms are expected to open in 2013, Bryan Coulter, director of finance for the Wichita Catholic Diocese. The building will also house a school office.

Plans to add more classrooms have been in the works for two years, after enrollment continued to grow, said school principal Eva Harmon.

By 2013 – when today’s first-graders are in third grade – there will be too many students “to offer a quality education” without the new building, Harmon said.

About 140 students are pre-enrolled for fall.

The original school, built in 1922, houses three classrooms and an office. The library, computers and labs are located in the basement. The gym is upstairs.

Two more classrooms are located in the parish hall. The old convent houses preschool and kindergarten.

With the new building, Harmon is optimistic enrollment numbers will remain high.

“I think we’ll see a steady growth of three to five students each year for the next couple of years,” she said.

Eck, nephew of St. Joseph parish pastor Ivan Eck, remembered being bused from his Haven home to St. Joe in the sixties. He said he hopes his donations will help better prepare students, including young athletes, to be successful in high school.

“I want the kids to be able to go on to Garden Plain, Andale and Goddard and play sports and enrich their experiences,” he said.