Nolan Catholic High School expands the experience
FORT WORTH — Nolan Catholic High School is launching a $40-million capital campaign and expansion that will transform the way young people learn at the coeducational, college preparatory campus in east Fort Worth. Elements of the multi-faceted project include new security doors at the school’s front entrance, upgrades to the auditorium, two courtyards to encourage outdoor instruction, construction of an Integrated Design, Engineering, and Art (IDEA) building, and a new chapel with seating for 2,000 worshippers.
Work on the front entrance and courtyards began December 13 with a groundbreaking ceremony. Construction of the IDEA building — which will house a new weight room and concession stand — will follow in January.
Plans began after the diocese hired an outside firm to conduct a security audit of the entire school system. The report indicated changes were needed at the high school.
“Older schools, like Nolan, were not built with security in mind. Unfortunately, we have to think that way now,” explained Jennifer Pelletier, diocesan school superintendent.
Considering the impact improving one area of the school would have on the entire campus, administrators interviewed architects and chose GFF — a company experienced with school design — to develop a master plan.
“They were pretty clear on using existing landscape and the beautiful elements of brick, wood, and glass that will stand the test of time,” the superintendent added.
But before making any decisions, the building committee reflected on the overall vision of the diocese and its schools.“We went back to where we always go — the bishop’s words,” Pelletier said, referring to Bishop Michael Olson’s 2016 convocation address stating that Catholic education opens the door to truth, beauty, and goodness. “Safety is the primary lens because it needs to be, but just as important is beauty.”
The planned construction of an IDEA building, a large, sacred, worship space, and landscaped plazas that can double as outdoor classrooms, will complement the classical education Nolan Catholic offers.
“We want students to understand and respond to what is beautiful,” the superintendent emphasized. “We want to advance the idea of being outside to see the beauty of God’s creation.”
The IDEA building will take the typical Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum one step further.
“We’re calling it the IDEA building because the arts and engineering will be in the same place,” Pelletier continued. “It’s also about the beauty and creativity behind science and engineering.”
Contractors will replace floors throughout the campus and the aging auditorium will receive a complete facelift with new seats, stage, and lighting.
The expansion is an opportunity to celebrate Nolan’s 66-year history and its partnership with Catholic elementary schools.
A large statue of Our Lady of Victory — recognizing the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur who helped start Nolan — is slated for the center of the circle drive. Campus hallways will showcase different statues, artwork, or floor inlays reflective and representative of each partner school.
“As students walk down the hallways, they’ll see statues of St. Andrew, St. Maria Goretti, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, or a model of the Holy Family,” said Leah Rios, Nolan’s president and former principal. “Each elementary school will be represented with some form of artwork in the building.”
Feedback from the school community is positive.
“Our parents are very excited and pleased the expansion benefits all students — not just one sector,” the president said. “And the students are excited they will experience this while they’re on campus. It’s not something that will happen in 10 years.”
After the first stage is complete, work will begin on classrooms, the library, and the master plan’s primary focus — a new chapel. Building the chapel will involve participation from the entire diocese, but how that will materialize is still uncertain.
The proposed worship space is planned for the east side of Nolan where the diocesan tribunal offices are currently located.
“We want students to truly be able to adore Christ and participate in the Mass without fighting distractions,” Pelletier explained. “It’s very difficult, at one of Nolan’s weekly Masses, to try and put yourself [spiritually] in a sacred place that’s really a gym. You can’t fight looking at the basketball goal. It’s there.”
Churches should be aesthetically beautiful, she suggested.
“They complement the beauty of the sacrifice of the Mass. It allows your mind to relax into the miracle.”
A capital campaign to fund the improvements and expansion will kick off in the spring with $21 million of the projected $40 needed for construction already raised. The diocese sold property in the area and “the bishop generously gave us the money to use towards this,” Pelletier said appreciatively.
“Education is a priority for him whether it involves seminarians, the schools, or catechesis,” she stated. “Nolan and the other schools are the best way to evangelize. We don’t just serve Catholics. Our schools exist for anyone who wants a great education.”
With seed money in the coffer, other donors were eager to contribute.
“They started contacting us to see what we were doing and wanted to be part of it,” the superintendent continued. “It’s gone really quickly and well.”