Addition to Catholic school in Ost almost ready for students

More than a year ago, St. Joseph Catholic School in Ost asked to build a new schoolhouse to accommodate growing enrollment.

Now, volunteers are putting on the finishing touches.

“We’re still installing pencil sharpeners … and looking for some chairs at auctions,” principal Eva Harmon said. She added that there’s no gym floor yet because the weather has been too wet.

“But we’re getting close.”

School and parish families, as well as volunteers and donors who helped fund the new building’s construction, will gather Sunday evening to dedicate three classrooms, an office and a gym at St. Joseph Catholic School, 12917 E. Maple Grove Road in Ost. The tiny farming town sits near the Sedgwick-Reno county line.

An open house and ice cream social starts at 6:30 p.m. A prayer service and ribbon cutting follow at 7. Tours will be given throughout the evening, Harmon said.

The school currently serves about 140 children in preschool through eighth grade.

The project, which broke ground in May 2012, cost an estimated $750,000. About half that amount – the cost of a new 80-foot-by-131-foot gym – was donated by Rusty Eck Ford owner Les Eck, nephew of parish pastor Ivan Eck and an alumnus of the school.

The rest came from fundraising, school savings and thousands of dollars of in-kind labor contributions and construction materials donated by parishioners and school families.

“You can’t put a number on it,” Harmon said when asked to estimate the value of labor donations used to build the school. It serves many of the 125 parish families and children from surrounding towns.

“These people know how to work and they are giving back to God,” she said.

“It’s been a very humbling experience.”

Thanks to the three new classrooms, grades that had been combined will move into their own space, Harmon said. The new hallway will double as a shelter during inclement weather.

There is a sink in the teacher’s lounge now and a restroom designated for adults.

“Simple things,” Harmon said, “make it more beautiful for us.”

The original school, which houses three classrooms and an office, was built in 1922. For years, the two-story brick building was a public school. Then in 2004, with 62 students attending, the Renwick School District shut it down.

Six weeks later the community reopened the building as a Catholic-run school. Eighty-three children enrolled.

When classes start Wednesday, 143 students – 11 more than last year – will haul backpacks and pencils through the little school’s doors. Harmon said she hopes enrollment continues to increase.

“I think the good work that we are doing is attracting people to Catholic education,” Harmon said.

“It’s exciting to see the school both thrive and grow.”