JOLIET – Officials at Joliet Catholic Academy are “more than halfway” to the $1.2 million fundraising goal needed for an expanded plan to create a Heritage Quad and make other school improvements.
About 700 people, mostly students, gathered Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony at the project’s site – a section highly visible to motorists passing the campus along Larkin Avenue.
The mainstay of the landscaped outdoor space will be a 35-foot-tall replica of the school’s landmark Victory Light tower, a “perfect way” to pay respect to the school’s history and tradition, Principal Jeff Budz said.
The original tower, a familiar sight in Joliet, is anchored atop the former Joliet Catholic High School building on Broadway Street. It remains a prominent school symbol, often used in decals and emblems for students and alumni.
Along with the Victory Light replica, the outdoor space will include 6-by-10-foot curved stone walls with inscriptions noting the histories of the school’s three predecessor schools: St. Francis Academy, Joliet Catholic High School and De La Salle High School.
Construction could begin this fall.
The $1.2 million project also calls for new windows in the section that faces the Heritage Quad and throughout the rest of the school, Budz said.
Officials initially estimated the capital improvements would cost about $500,000, but their fundraising goal has more than doubled now that the project’s scope includes additional windows; more outdoor aesthetics, such as bronze sculptures; and air conditioning throughout the school – something the 58-year-old building has gone without for decades.
JCA officials are more than halfway to their $1.2 million goal, after beginning fundraising efforts this past fall, Budz said. That’s a clear indication of how the institution’s alumni, and families of current students, continue to support the school’s efforts, he said.
“That just shows us their passion for our school and how they want us to succeed,” Budz said.
Enough money has been raised for construction to begin as early as October, he said, with the first steps being windows and the outdoor space’s foundation.
The windows date back to the building’s 1956 construction.
Max Ziesmer, co-chairman of the project team, said the project developed out of alumni focus group sessions. The project has since grown with the hopes of providing space for events and social gatherings, such as a graduation, victory celebrations and alumni reunions.
“That goes back to why this has become a bigger project. We wanted to be able to aesthetically set it up for those types of situations,” Ziesmer said. “When we talk about this space, kids really haven’t ever hung out here. This is a really big area of land that nobody’s ever used. Now it’s really going to become a focal point.”
The goal is to create a space for JCA’s alumni, teachers, and current and future students, that brings life to the school’s history and tradition, Ziesmer said.
Bill Bayci, president for JCA’s board of directors, said JCA’s legacy lies within alumni who have stayed in the Joliet area and accomplished great things for the community.
That’s what the Victory Light and the Heritage Quad are all about, he said.
“Everybody knows about Tom Thayer and Allie Quigley, and other great leaders in the community. Part of our legacy is those folks, no doubt about that, but our legacy is also each one of us in the community,” Bayci said. “So many people from Joliet Catholic Academy [and the school’s predecessors], they stayed home, raised families, and now they do positive things in the community every day. They have families and lead good lives. And that’s really the legacy.”
More about JCA
Joliet Catholic Academy was formed in 1990 with the merging of Joliet Catholic High School, an all-boys school, and St. Francis Academy, an all-girls school. The two schools together have 144 years of history.
St. Francis formed in 1869, while De La Salle High School formed in 1918 at the site where the Victory Light stands today. The school became Joliet Catholic High School in 1933. Learn more about JCA at www.jca-online.org/