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W.Va. parish school dedicated

August 27, 2000

W.Va. parish school dedicated



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Several hundred people gathered Sunday to dedicate the new St. Joseph Parish School, praying as Father John Di Bacco did that it will become "a center of seeking, learning and teaching."

About 395 students from kindergarten to eighth grade will spill into the spacious 40,000-square-foot building on the southeast corner of Stephen and King Streets beginning Sept. 5

It its last life, the building was part of the now-abandoned Blue Ridge Outlet Center. The parish bought the building for $1.8 million, gutted it and started turning it into a school in January. Adjacent land is being turned into a gymnasium, expected to be complete early next year as part of the parish's $5.3 million purchase and renovation project.

The work will double the number of classrooms to 16 from eight at the long-time school on the northeast corner of the intersection. That building will house charitable organizations, including a food kitchen.

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"It's a big improvement," said Penny Ferretti of Martinsburg, who has sent her fourth grade child to the school since kindergarten and will start another child in kindergarten this year. "There's just so much more room here."

"I think being all in one big building like this is the best part of it," said Kelly Watson of Hedgesville, who is both the art teacher and the parent of a fifth grader at the school.

The bright new building is a big step forward for a school with roots that go deep into the community.

At various times, it has occupied three of the four corners of the intersection since it first opened before the Civil War. It closed for a while, then re-opened permanently in 1883. A small building across the street from the new facility housed a high school until 1970.

"It's a beautiful building," said David Kee, a graduate of that last class in 1970. "This is the envy of the rest of the city." The new school is adorned with a clock tower and soon will have taped bells ringing throughout downtown.

Bishop Bernard W. Schmitt spoke of the hard work necessary to make the school a reality.

"We have to love our children, but as the whole parish community ... we have to sacrifice for them," Schmitt said. He also stressed the parents can give to children more than a new building.

"We have to make sure our Catholic schools are so superior in every way," he said. "More and more parents are asking today for a school that will teach values."

It's that sense of values that led Ferretti to enroll her children.

"It's the ideals and principle behind it, the emphasis on Christian values" she said.

Del. John Overington, D-Berkeley, noted the irony of a private Catholic school growing directly across King Street from the Berkeley County Board of Education building.

But he said this Catholic school and other private schools complement what public schools are doing.

"There are 1,000 students in private schools in Berkeley County that the crowded public school system does not have to educate," said Overington. He described himself as "the leading advocate (in the Legislature) for school choice." He is pushing tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools and also favors allowing parents to use vouchers to send their children to private schools.

Asked about the mixing of public dollars for private religious schools, he said, "We send students to Notre Dame all the time on federal scholarships. I see this as a win-win for everyone."

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