$6 million fundraiser gets underway for St. Michael

Several hundred alumni, parents and students of St. Michael the Archangel High School crowded into the gym Sunday afternoon to kick off an ambitious, multimillion-dollar fund drive for a new building and other campus improvements.

The two-phased Continuing the Warrior Legacy Capital Campaign has a goal of raising $6 million, school officials said, in order to meet the growing needs of the 740-student, grade 9-12 high school.

Phase One is a new 28,000-square-foot multipurpose building that will feature an auditorium, a high-tech “black box” theater, gym, band room, locker rooms and a prep kitchen, according to a school hand-out. A lobby connecting the new building to the existing gym will include concessions, restrooms and storage areas. Some covered walkways between other buildings also will be built.

A second phase will expand parking and paving and include covered bus and vehicle drop-off areas on the 40-acre campus at 17521 Monitor Ave. Both phases are estimated to cost $6 million, but a million dollars already has been promised.

“We’re limited with the facilities that we have and we want to expand our fine arts program,” Principal Ellen Lee said. “We are growing. Our families want a good, strong Catholic education and that’s what we provide.”

If all goes according to plans, Lee said, with the campaign donations, some additional grants, short-term loans and other funding ideas, school officials hope to break ground in about a year and a half.

Austin Wendt, 19, a senior and student body president said, “It means a lot to the students because this is building our future. This will allow the students to be better able to express themselves through art and music.”

Dr. Beau Clark, a 1991 alumni and coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, chairs one of the committees. Several members of his family are also alumni, and he has two children who will, in the next few years, attend the high school.

“I was afforded some great opportunities both by my parents, who sent me here, but also by the school itself,” Clark said. “It certainly gave me the tools as far as my education goes. It gave me an opportunity to develop my leadership skills and reinforced my Catholic faith.”

The Most Rev. Robert W. Muench, bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, told the audience he spends at least 30 days of the year visiting the parish’s many elementary and secondary schools, but he visits St. Michael the most, “because of my belief of what this place is all about.”

“I want to tell you that I not only endorse this campaign but I want to add my voice to it,” Muench said.

He presented Lee with an envelope containing a donation, to hearty applause.

Diocese School Superintendent Melanie Verges told the group that donating to the campaign is ensuring a bright future for their children, and Edward Rispone, a primary donor, told the group how important a Catholic education was to him growing up and for his children as well.

Myra Patureau, who served as principal from 2007 until her retirement in 2011, was in the audience and was greeted warmly by many.

“I’m very excited,” Patureau said. “It is the community — the students — who have made this school so wonderful,” referring to the approximately 4,000 alumni the school has produced.

Scott Simoneaux, who like many in the group was wearing a large round campaign button declaring, “I’m In!” in large red letters, said his son graduated in 2010.

“Attendance keeps going up and up — we’re getting more requests,” Simoneaux said. “I don’t know if that’s any indication of what the public school system is doing here in town but we need a bigger infrastructure to support a bigger school.”

According to officials and its web site, the school was founded in 1984 in one building and has a 99 percent graduation rate to attend college.