EASTON — It was a momentous occasion in Sabre history as ground was broken on the new Saints Peter & Paul High School and the parish’s Family Life Center during a ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 5.

Saints Peter & Paul students, facility and school board members, representatives from the town of Easton, members of the Diocese of Wilmington and various government officials gathered under a tent near the church to witness the shovels turn over the fresh dirt.

Those attending admired the architectural drawings of the two buildings on display.

The new high school and Family Life Center will be on the church’s 100-acre campus between U.S. Route 50 and South Washington Street in Easton.

“Today is really about dedication, tenacity and people who believe in this project,” Saints Peter & Paul Pastor, the Rev. James Nash told the crowd at the ceremony.

Nash and other members of the Saints Peter & Paul School Board have been conducting fundraising efforts since 2016 and have raised more than $15 million so far. The project is estimated to cost about $18 million.

Nash thanked Bishop W. Francis Malooly, Monsignor Steven Hurley, Easton officials, Saints Peter & Paul parishioners, School Board Chairman Peggy Wilson and the other school board members, and many others for their support of the project.

He said the new Family Life Center will be for the entire community, while the high school is entirely for the students and faculty because they deserve it.

“We want Saints Peter & Paul, when this project is completed, to be a place for the parish to grow as a community,” Nash said. “The school will provide for all the students on the Eastern Shore, no matter what faith tradition they might be, to continue to grow in mind, body and spirit in a new and beautiful facility.”

Amid many prayers of blessings over the “holy ground” and expressions of gratitude for the devotion of the Saints Peter & Paul school board and the crowd before him, Malooly also praised the endeavors, generosity and pride of everyone associated with the project because of the importance of schools in creating a strong foundation for youth.

He said the Family Life Center will be a parish gathering space and important to “continue growing the faith group” and helping people better interact with each other.

Malooly told the students he cannot wait to walk the halls of the new high school and was excited about “checking out their own enthusiasm” over the facility.

While the bishop sprinkled holy water over the ground, shovels were handed out to various members of the school faculty, board, attending clergy and Willow Construction, which is the company handling the construction of the two facilities.

Lined up with their shovels ready were Justin Hiner, senior estimator at Willow Construction; Jim Nemeth, SSPP High School principal; Brent Outten, SSPP parish and school director of facilities and owners’ representative; Melissa Quirk, SSPP school board member and chairman of the facilities committee; Carol Ripken, assistant superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Wilmington and SSPP board member; Monsignor Steven Hurley, vicar general of the Diocese of Wilmington; Bishop Francis Malooly of the Diocese of Wilmington; the Rev. James Nash, SSPP parish pastor and school board member; Peggy Wilson, school board chairman and chairman of the executive committee of SSPP School; Wayne Hockmeyer, SSPP school board vice chairman and development committee co-chairman; Teresa Mitchell Snyder, SSPP school board secretary; Jim Farrell, SSPP board member and development committee co-chairman; and Mike Hiner, Willow Construction president.

Applause rang in the air as the ground was broken.

Wilson was excited the long-awaited project is moving forward.

“For a very long time, our students were in a bunch of modular buildings,” she said. “They were supposed to be out of them in five years, and they’ve been in them for 25. These students deserve to have a nice home, a nice place to call theirs.”

Founded in 1958, the high school originally held classes in the brick building at 900 High St. that now is home to the elementary school.

Under the leadership of former pastor, the Rev. Paul Jennings, two stick-built buildings attached by a portable structure to form a U-shape were installed on Choptank Avenue behind the original brick school building. Nash said the structure was meant to be in place for five years. Instead, it has housed the high school for nearly 25 years.

The school has about 170 students, but the new building will accommodate 325 students.

Whenever the long process became challenging, Wilson looked to a quote: “’Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations,’ and for us, this is going to be a beautiful destination,” she said.

She said the school will have new technology to help the students continue on their education path.

“It’s a great future for them to be able to be educated in a real building with state-of-the-art labs and robotics labs,” she said. “It’s very exciting for them to be able to experience this.

Wilson said the leadership is waiting for the final permits to come in before constructions starts.

“It will probably start within the next 30 days,” she said. “We’re expecting it to be done in July 2021, ready for the 2021-2022 school year.”

Current Saints Peter and Paul high school sophomores will be the first graduating class, and seventh grade students will be the first freshmen class at the new school.

Editor Connie Connolly contributed to this story.

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