Back to School: It’s time to build

For over a decade, people have dreamt of building a Catholic high school to serve the Horry/Georgetown county area. Now that dream is solidifying into reality.

Bill Meany, one of the project organizers, said the new high school received the go-ahead from Bishop Robert J. Baker and tentative dates have been set for construction to begin on June 1, 2011 and classes to start in August 2012. 

“It’s a gigantic project to open a high school,” Meany said.

The Diocese of Charleston purchased 75 acres in 1999 in the Carolina Forest near S.C. Highways 501 and 31 and the Robert Grissom Parkway and plan to use about 50 acres for the school. Construction costs are estimated at $15 million and will be paid for through capital campaigns, community donations and bonds, Meany said. 

Initial plans call for ninth- through 12th-grade with a start-up class of about 300 students and the possible addition of an elementary school in the future, said Father Patrick Stenson of Precious Blood of Christ on Pawleys Island.

The high school would draw students from parishes on Pawleys Island, Conway, Garden City, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, he said.

“It’s not out of reach of anyone,” Father Stenson said. “It’d be very helpful to our families. It would be a tremendous asset to this part of the country.”

Msgr. Joseph R. Roth has been an ardent supporter of the school. He serves on the planning committee and said several factors led to the decision to build.

First and foremost, the area needs a full-service Catholic high school, he said. It is also imperative to have community support, financial backing and available land.

“Thus far, all of this seems to be happening and we are continuing to move forward,” Msgr. Roth said. “With God’s blessing, we hope to soon see this become a reality.”

Father Stenson said parishioners first expressed interest in 1994 and again several years later. In 2000, the diocese commissioned a study by the Meitler Group which showed a high level of support throughout the community.

He said they also have received solid commitment from area businesses, which use strong schools as a magnet for employees.

The Horry/Georgetown area has two elementary schools and parents want their children to continue with a Catholic education through high school, Meany said.

The diocese recently sent out a follow-up survey to parishioners seeking input on a variety of elements, such as which grades to include, the number of students per graduating class, cost of tuition and potential non-Catholic interest.

According to a directive from the Catholic schools office, enrollment must be at least 70 percent Catholic.

Other criteria, as established by Bishop Baker in a note to parents, call for the high school to be intrinsically Catholic with mandatory instruction in the Catholic faith as well as Mass and confession, academically excellent with a college preparatory curriculum, supported by the community and financially feasible.

Seed money already has been collected to pay for initial expenditures and Bill Halasz was selected as the architect. Preliminary drawings are slated for completion Nov. 1.