St. Mary's School has raised $3.3 million toward a goal of $4 million to build an athletic center and chapel next year.

St. Mary's School has raised $3.3 million toward a goal of $4 million to build an athletic center and chapel next year.

The project took a step closer to construction when the school received approval earlier this month from the Medford Planning Commission in a 5-3 vote on a master plan.

The plan includes a 29,416-square-foot athletic center and fine arts building, along with a 1,086-square-foot chapel.

School Principal Frank Phillips said the school will get a better idea of the cost of the project once bids are returned at the end of January.

He said the school is encouraged by the fundraising efforts that started in 2007 and have continued despite the recession.

"We're hoping like every other fund-raising campaign in the valley that we will be getting over the top," Phillips said.

Phillips said the school needs the new facilities to keep pace with a 45 percent enrollment surge. Since the 2003-04 school year, St. Mary's has seen its student population increase from 318 to 455.

Phillips said St. Mary's could eventually enroll up to 600 students, but would cap its growth at that level.

The school needed a master plan to identify areas for future building and to create an access road and parking area on the relatively small footprint of land.

"We kind of played chess with the layout to make it work," he said.

The split vote on approval came after Planning Commission members expressed concern that the St. Mary's plan would encroach on Larson Creek. About 4 acres of the parcel is in a riparian zone.

Phillips, however, said the master plan envisions a net gain of about 17,000 square feet for the riparian zone.

A 50-foot setback from the creek is required, but the school received a variance that would allow it to encroach on about 3,200 square feet of the riparian area.

But, at the same time, the school will shift a road away from the riparian area. The area under the road will be restored to a natural condition, resulting in 20,000 square feet of improved riparian area.

The school has a lease on the property until 2048 from Sacred Heart Parish. The master plan will be reviewed by the archdiocese before work begins.

Details of a proposed Larson Creek Trail are still being worked out by the city.

Phillips said students at St. Mary's already have undertaken some of the restoration work along the creek.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.