St. John’s Lutheran School to expand this year

Construction on a 6,000 square foot addition is expected to begin in May. The new space will replace a trailer that currently houses the preschool students. (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)
Construction on a 6,000 square foot addition is expected to begin in May. The new space will replace a trailer that currently houses the preschool students. (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)

Thanks to a generous donation from a former student, St. John’s Lutheran School in NYA will be expanding this year.

The new addition of nearly 6,000 square feet on the northwestern corner of the building will replace a temporary trailer that has been used to house preschool students for over a decade. Construction is expected to start after the existing trailer is moved out of the area in the first week of May, and school officials hope to have the new space ready to receive students in the fall.

“It’ll be exciting, said St. John’s Principal David Polzin, noting that the trailer was never meant to be a long-term solution to space needs at the school. “I’ve heard it’s been there for more like 15 years that we’ve used the trailer. It was supposed to be a very temporary thing, and it didn’t turn out that way.”

Polzin said that final costs have not yet been worked out, but estimates are that the work will cost around half a million dollars. All of that cost can be covered by the donation from Mabel Hoffman, a former student who willed a substantial portion of money to the school for improvements before she passed away.

The new addition will be the school’s third. While the school’s history stretches back to the earliest years of St. John’s Church in the 1860s, the current building was constructed in 1950 and dedicated in 1951. The first addition in 1961 extended the classroom wing to the north with four additional classrooms, and the second in 1970 added the school’s gymnasium.

At present, the trailer houses only preschool students, but the new addition will include two classrooms for preschool and kindergarten, and a large activity room as well. That will open up the current kindergarten room for new possibilities, and will unite the full student body under one roof.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to get people together. They’ve kind of been an island to themselves,” said Polzin. “We want to get everybody in here so that they are used to coming in here and hopefully it will feel like home to them. This will allow the preschool students to come down here to use the gym or for different things  and not have to bundle up for the 15 second walk or whatever it happens to be when it’s too cold for them to go out without their coats on.”

In recent years Polzin said that preschool numbers have stayed fairly steady with about 15 students at the 3-year-old age and about 20 students at the 4-year-old level.

“We’d like to grow that number. I feel that growth in the school is going to be dependent on growth in the younger areas,” he said. “If we don’t get them there, they’re not very likely to start at a later time. I’d say that would be a benefit of doing this project. I’m really hopeful that it will generate some interest and make people think that maybe it’s an option for their child.”

The construction timeline will complicate the end of the year for St. John’s students and staff, as the preschool students will have to find space in the existing building for the last month of the school year after the trailer is removed. The school is still examining options, but current plans could involve either using the extended care room for preschool or using a portion of the gym.

“Our sports are outside at that time of year, and hopefully we’ll be outside with phy ed.,” said Polzin. “It creates some excitement about how we’re going to finish our current school year, but that’s fun. I don’t mind that.”

While a building committee was formed about a year and a half ago, Polzin said it is encouraging to see that concrete steps will be taken soon.

“It’s long overdue. If you’ve been in the building you can sense that,” he said. “And it will be coming quick. It will be here tomorrow.”