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A long-planned Catholic middle and high school in Okatie could open as soon as next year.
Planners of the Pope John Paul II School say construction could begin by the end of the year, and the school could accept its first classes of seventh- through ninth-graders in the fall of 2013.
Last week, the school received a $3 million gift from the Richard D. Ennen Charitable Remainder Trust, bringing the total raised to about $5 million, according to Ross Kuykenball, the head of the school's facilities committee and co-chairman of the fundraising campaign.
The first phase of construction includes a two-story high school building, a multi-purpose playing field and a gymnasium on the 70-acre plot on S.C. 170 near the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence. It is expected to cost about $7.5 million, Kuykenball said.
The high school building will be built first because it is larger, Kuykenball said. Seventh- and eighth-graders will eventually attend classes in a smaller one-story building after it is built.
The original site for the school was off S.C. 170 near Camp St. Marys Road, but those plans didn't pan out, Kuykenball said.
Kuykenball said interest in building the school began about 10 years ago, but the committee only began raising money last summer. The Diocese of Charleston said three Catholic schools were needed in the area to establish a strong feeder system. St. Gregory the Great Elementary School in Bluffton was opened in 2007, and those interested in opening a high school started work in 2009, Kuykenball said.
Ultimately, the school expects to enroll 500 students in grades seven through 12. It will be the first Catholic high school in the area, and one of only four in the state, Kuykenball said. There are two single-sex Catholic high schools in Savannah, he added.
Kuykenball said St. Peter Catholic School in Beaufort, St. Francis Catholic School on Hilton Head Island and St. Gregory the Great Elementary School will likely be the main feeder schools. As in other Catholic high schools in South Carolina, about 30 percent of the student body will probably not be Catholic, he said.
Because the area's Catholic elementary schools focus on math and the sciences, the John Paul II School will emphasize these studies, as well, and add an environmental focus, according to acting principal Helen Ryan.
The school will also have many Advanced Placement courses, giving students the opportunity to earn college credit, said Ryan, a former principal at Hilton Head Island High School.
The school plans to serve families throughout the quickly growing Lowcountry Deanery, which stretches from Hilton Head Island to Walterboro and includes about 8,100 Catholics, Kuykenball said.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.