Dear Parents and Students:
As I am now firmly in the middle of my 35th year of administration of a Catholic high school, I think it is safe to say that over the years I have learned many things. In fact, some might say that at my age, I have forgotten more than I know. As Aquinas 2020 moves well past its midpoint, I am reminded that whenever there is a moment in a school’s history that includes a capital campaign, it always generates great excitement as well as a lot of conversation among and across all spectrums of the school community.
Many years ago I learned when you undertake something of the magnitude of Aquinas 2020, you certainly get plenty of questions and comments. Occasionally, folks will actually ask me personally, but the nature of the social interaction that makes Saint Thomas Aquinas a special place happens in many places where our people gather. To paraphrase the Bible: Wherever two or three Saint Thomas Aquinas people gather, something always comes up.
Obviously in this space I do not have the room to deal with everything on people’s minds, but I can address a couple of common themes of Aquinas 2020 here.
We would love to support the project in some way, but we heard you are only looking for large gifts and our small donation will not make a difference.
As William Shakespeare once said, “There are no small actors.” For Aquinas 2020, there are no small gifts and every one of them counts. One of the motivations for the $500,000 Challenge from Lamar and Rita Hunt for the next phases of the project was to give every gift double impact. Whatever you find in your heart that you can contribute, it will double and most importantly, our students, current and future, will benefit in so many ways. As I have said throughout the fall, the success of the next phase of this project depends not so much on the size of the gift but on the number of folks involved. We need everyone and I am counting on all of you to get involved.
I’ve seen all the construction and I just assumed you guys were done.
We have tried to impress on all our constituents that Aquinas 2020 is a multi-year construction project phased in by a multi-layered fundraising effort. Only Phase 1 (that which you can see now) is complete. It is a little confusing for folks since A.L. Huber moved the trailer around the time school started; however, given the nature of a school calendar, it is almost impossible to do all of the remodel work planned when the students are here for many obvious reasons including time. The trailer will be back (it just made sense for them to use it where it was needed) once we decide on the scope of Phase 2 which will include the library, the locker rooms and some restroom renovations to comply with ADA. Since the next phase is almost completely a remodel, this may take two summers to complete. I do know that the Library is our next priority.
(Corollary to above) Since I assumed you were done, I also assumed you had all the money you needed.
The generosity of so many initial donors allowed us to plan and complete Phase 1 on time and a little under original budget. This fall, we set out to generate the resources for the next phase. While our Board of Trustees and members of our team are working diligently to arrive at a reasonable scope of the project for Phase 2, we believe the costs will land in the neighborhood of $2.2-2.5 million. That is the dollar number we need to generate. I am encouraged by the initial response to the challenge grant from our parents, alumni and some past Saint Thomas Aquinas folks. As I said above, in order to be successful, we will need everyone to do something within their means.
What’s on the immediate horizon?
One of my mentors over the years always used to say, “You can only eat the elephant one bite at a time.” Without trying to become too technical, we made a conscious decision to separate out “soft” costs from the “hard” construction cost in order to maximize resources for both. Simply, it did not make fiscal sense for us to install the furniture or the technology in the old SMC wing or the security system as part of the hard construction when we already knew what we needed and what vendors could do this work. Most importantly, we could save the money from the markup that happens from everyone who touched it as part of the hard construction. Consequently, we made the decision to roll these costs into our established budget.
Another example of this is the fitness center. As many of you are aware, the weight equipment has been here for over three years and only needed to be moved into the center. (We did purchase two additional racks to complete the room). From the beginning, we have been working with Dr. Kirk McCollough and Mark Buckingham, who supply our trainer and medical services, to outfit the room with the needed cardio and rehab equipment. In the last week, they have arranged for demo equipment for us to try out to see if it can withstand the rigors of 14-18 olds. It was not our plan to make it 24-hour Fitness but to outfit it to meet our needs. Their advice and expertise as to what we need has been invaluable. By summer it will be equipped to meet our current needs.
Also, there was a serious need to expand the curriculum in the STEAM arena and the innovation lab is a key part of that. We have been methodically outfitting the room with equipment as we find out what our need is in light of actual practice. This summer we invested resources for training our instructor in the Engineer Our World curriculum/program through the University of Texas. In addition, a key part of our personnel transition in the Visual Arts Department was made with an eye on finding a teacher with the skills and enthusiasm to develop and teach Digital Art which is a key component of architecture programs around the country. Both programs will be in place next fall for our students and housed in the innovation lab.
Fiscal cycles being what they are, obviously we are moving methodically and conservatively to continue to transform the spaces. That being said, all of this must be balanced with the regular costs of maintaining a 30-year old building. An air condenser or three here and a roof repair in the drama/music room there and it all adds up. I would love to make a mad dash but vendors send me invoices and expect cash in return, so a cautious fiscal approach is my preferred approach for now.
Unfortunately, eating the elephant one bite at a time inevitably creates dilemmas. Do I know we need to transform the lighting in the south parking lot? Yes I do, but it make more sense to trench the wiring through the asphalt when we don’t have 350 cars parked out there.
I hope this answers many of the questions you might have. Eating the elephant one bite at a time means I can’t answer them all, so please give me a call or shoot me an e-mail if you have any questions. Finally, I would love your support for Aquinas 2020.
William P. Ford, Ed.D