CRANBERRY TWP — Construction on Butler County's first Catholic high school is almost complete as the school is only months away from opening.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School is designed to handle up to 1,000 students, although officials said that enrollment won't reach that number in the school's inaugural year.
Charles Goetz, director of operations for the school, said that Diocese of Pittsburgh officials expect about 150 students to transfer from the school's current site in Troy Hill to the new site in Cranberry.
In addition, he said the diocese has received more than 150 applications for enrollment from prospective incoming freshmen. That number is expected to rise as the school's opening date gets closer, he said.
The school is making an effort to recruit its students from the region, including Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties.
Also, about 20 teachers are expected to make the transition from Pittsburgh, while diocese officials expect to hire about 25 before the new school opens.
The $55 million school is atop a hill on 70 acres near Cranberry's border with Seven Fields. It is on the north side of Route 228.
The only area of the building not yet finished is the chapel, the centerpiece of the school that will seat several hundred students. Crews are expected to finish the circular structure by the end of May.
Goetz said during a tour this week that the chapel will be visible down a corridor as soon as students walk through the school's front door, which is an intentional design.
“The Catholic identity runs through this building, right when you open the door on through the rest of the building,” he said. “The chapel is the first thing students will see.”
Beyond the chapel, mostly everything else is ready to go except field seeding and road improvements.
Those improvements, which include paving roads and parking spaces, must be completed before the site receives an occupancy permit from the township. However, that work only started this month because of restrictions imposed by the state's Department of Transportation.
Inside, the school offers a modern learning facility. There are no blackboards in the 36 “educational spaces,” which include classrooms, a television studio, science labs and musical composition rooms.
There are only dry erase boards while most rooms also are equipped with mounted televisions. In addition, each student will be issued a school-owned laptop computer for their studies.
The school's architects also built in space for 15 extra classrooms to allow for expansion. Those classrooms will be finished as enrollment grows.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic has all of the other amenities expected in a modern school. The 900-seat carpeted auditorium will offer a spacious environment for student plays or assemblies.
However, it could also be used for community events and for outreach and conference events for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The gymnasium, complete with a huge school logo emblazoned on the center of the court, is expected to hold more than 1,250 people.
There also will be a large cafeteria in the basement of the school that will have several food stations. The only blackboard in the school is located in the cafeteria, where daily menus will be posted.
The opening of the school represents a new chapter for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, officials said.
The Rev. Charles Bober, recently named as president of the new school, said he understands the significance of opening a Catholic high school in the county. And he can't wait to get the school up and running.
“It's very exciting because it's a major undertaking by the diocese,” said Bober, who will remain as pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Cranberry.
“We've been for a very long time down in Pittsburgh and we never came north.
He said the diocese looking north for its latest high school provides “a great opportunity to expand, a great opportunity for Catholic education.”
A date for first day of school in the fall has not yet been set.