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St. Mary's to build dorm, cafeteria

St. Mary’s School hopes to break ground next May on an ambitious, $10 million project that will include a dorm for international students, the school’s first-ever cafeteria and a STEM center.

The private, Catholic secondary school submitted its conditional use permit application to the city of Medford Aug. 26. If the permit is granted, the school plans to begin demolition of its current multipurpose building, boiler room and two modulars at the center of the campus to make room for a roughly 25,000-square-foot, two-story building that will serve as the student commons and house the cafeteria on the first floor and a STEM center on the second floor. 

“We’re calling it the heart of the campus,” said Frank Phillips, St. Mary's head of school, adding that the student commons will be surrounded by a courtyard.

A second building, a nearly 18,000-square-foot dormitory with beds for 50 students and apartments for resident assistants, will displace the school’s outdoor basketball court north of the Naumes Center. The court will be relocated to an area west of the track, and the nearby softball field will be transformed into a parking lot.

The school, which celebrated its 151st anniversary Sept. 11, was built without a cafeteria, Phillips said.

“We have never had one, so right now the kids buy lunch from a concession stand that is the size of this office,” he said of his own 150-square-foot room. “Or they brown-bag it and eat in the multipurpose room when the weather is bad. “

High school students also have the option of going off campus for lunch.

Upstairs from the new cafeteria, the STEM center will be designed "to facilitate exploratory, hands-on, project-based learning" and will no longer have fixed lecture and work spaces. Rather it will be “100 percent usable and reconfigurable,” Phillips said.

“Currently we just have three high school science labs and two middle school science labs,” he said. “This will bring us up to 11.”

Over the last five years, St. Mary’s has partnered with six high schools in China and currently hosts 65 international students, including 55 from China and 10 from South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.

A handful of international students — 15 this year — typically stay with host families, and the rest live in the Southern Oregon University dorms while attending St. Mary’s.

SOU, Phillips said, has been a “phenomenal partner,” and the students have enjoyed living in Ashland and accessing the university’s library and other resources. Nonetheless, transportation to and from the dorms has been an inconvenience, particularly when the international students participate in extracurricular activities that require them to be at the school after the bus leaves at 4:15 p.m.

St. Mary’s has its own fleet of vans to transport students who stay later, Phillips said.

“But having them here on campus allows them to participate fully in the life of the school without wasting all their time in transit,” he added.

The dorm will be built in such a way that another wing can be added to accommodate future growth, Phillips said.

Having a dorm on campus will allow the school to join The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) and explore the potential for having domestic boarders.

“(TABS) is like the ‘Good Housekeeping’ seal for boarding schools,” Phillips said. “Once you join TABS, they do a big marketing effort for you and get you on lists.”

Phillips projects that construction of both buildings will take about 15 months and, hopefully, be completed in time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in August 2018.

In the meantime, international students will continue to reside at SOU, and St. Mary's will continue its capital campaign, titled “St. Mary’s 2.0,” in an effort to raise money for the project.

Since launching the campaign in March, the school has raised about $2 million and hopes to raise at least another $4 million and finance the rest.

“These buildings not only take St. Mary’s to the next level — having state-of-the-art facilities, new curriculum and a boarding school — they're also an asset to the community, allowing our students to rub shoulders with highly motivated students from all over the world," Phillips said, adding that the closest boarding school is in Canyonville.

“We’re not a major metro area, and this is an opportunity to expose our students to globalization, other places on the planet and broaden their horizons," he said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Since launching the 'St. Mary's 2.0' campaign for the new buildings in March, the school has raised about $2 million and hopes to raise at least another $4 million and finance the rest.
St. Mary's School plans to construct a new two-story building that will house a cafeteria and STEM center. Artist rendering courtesy S & B James Construction