October 28, 2016
When not focusing on curriculum, finances or his other major responsibilities as Kuemper Catholic Schools president, John Steffes recently has enjoyed serving as an occasional tour guide. And he’s found it particularly rewarding to see the reaction of Kuemper alumni, supporters and other school friends when they get their first look at the dramatic renovations to the main entry at Kuemper High School.
No longer is a boys’ bathroom one of the first sights greeting visitors entering the school. No longer do delivery drivers come to an intersection of hallways just inside the front door and have to wonder which direction they take to the main office.
The school main entry received dramatic improvements this summer in a project that was years in the making, and the changes are evident from the first step into the building.
— The new entry now houses the secretaries’, principal’s, registrar’s and guidance counselor’s offices, plus conference rooms and two handicap-accessible restrooms. Formerly in this area were the boys’ restroom, a family restroom, a small storage closet, the activities director’s office, the guidance office and a math classroom.
— Across the hall is a new office and reception area for the activities director and secretary, as well as a new math classroom. Formerly in this area were a girls’ restroom, a closet for pipes, and part of a large classroom that no longer used.
— Just a little farther inside the front door, space that most recently served as the chaplain’s office has been made into a small shrine featuring a large photo of the school’s namesake, Father Joseph Kuemper, who was instrumental in the creation of parishes in the area, schools and St. Anthony Hospital. A gold pocket watch that was owned by Father Kuemper is encased in glass below the watch.
— Across from the gymnasium, new men’s and women’s restrooms have been built where the secretaries’ and registrar’s offices were formerly located.
— A little farther down the hall and around the corner to the right, the principal’s former office has been remade into the chaplain’s office.
Steffes said the renovation resulted from strategic planning for the Kuemper attendance centers that began several years ago.
“A primary reason was for school security,” he explained, “is it tied in with security at all our centers — Kuemper, St. Lawrence, Holy Spirit and St. Angela. And when the architects did their master plan with security, it also tied in very nicely with work-flow efficiencies for the support staff and just to have the offices where they should be — up front.”
Indeed, improved security systems were installed at all four Kuemper attendance centers. The centers now have locked doors during the school day, buzzers, card readers. cameras, and monitors for secretaries. All staff received cards/badges for entry. The doors can be programmed/timed.
Steffes said, “Altogether, in combination with the security, it has been a fantastic remodeling. And at the same time we were able to incorporate the shrine area to really emphasize our Catholic identity, so it reinforces when you take your first step into our institution that this is obviously a Catholic school. I think we accomplished that as well.”
Kandis Henderson, who began as a Kuemper secretary in October 1996, and Ann Schmitz, who has been the school’s registrar since June 2012, appreciate their new work environment.
“We love the great big windows looking out into the hallway,” Henderson said. “Ann and I laugh that we don’t know if we are in a zoo or a fish bowl. It is actually quieter in the new office. We do have a lot more storage and work space now. Sometimes in the old office we were so close together we would just yell at each other if we needed an answer. Now we have to use the phones or walk.”
Henderson said of the reaction from visitors, “People love having the offices right up front. They don’t have to come halfway down the hall and wonder if they are in the right place.”
Since his move into a remodeled office, said Father Brian Feller, who’s in his second year as Kuemper chaplain, said he’s receiving more visits from students. His office is located next to the cafeteria, and that traffic provides more opportunity to visit with students.
“My duties have continued to evolve in my second year here,” Feller said. “Relationships have been created between the kids and me, so we have more discussion. I think the kids feel more welcome to come into my office.”
Feller said of his new office, “It’s a pretty active place. What’s really nice is that it’s right by the lunchroom so I get to see a lot of kids as they’re going to lunch. Then it’s also easier for me to pop out of my office and go talk to them and just visit throughout the lunchroom. And it’s easy for them to pop in after or before lunch.”
The office is used for Bible study and other opportunities to assist students. Or students are welcome for just friendly chat. Feller said he also receives visits from students who are in the school for extracurricular activities outside regular classroom hours.
“The office space is more conducive than the old (which was located in a corner at the front of the building) to having conversations. It’s a little bigger, and there’s the shape and space.”
Kuemper President Steffes has seen the difference the school’s renovation has made in not only attractiveness of the school and work efficiency, but he’s also heartened by a deeper impact.
“I think students were impressed on the first day,” he said. “It had a ‘Wow!’ factor. The first day of school it was fun to watch the kids. We also got to see that when fans came for the first volleyball games this fall. It’s been fun to see all the new energy and new enthusiasm.”
Steffes said he’s particularly proud to show alumni the changes.
“It’s always a delight to see how impressed they are with their old alma mater,” he observed. “We’re proud of it. It’s a big tribute to all our supporters. We have such a big base of supporters to Kuemper. So it’s really a tribute to all of them as well.”
The renovation cost will total approximately a half-million dollars, and the project is funded from the current Kuemper Tomorrow capital campaign, which has generated more than $5.1 million so far. That campaign previously funded technology updates, improvements in the science classrooms and a new chapel. Currently underway is construction of a new fieldhouse on Grant Road, with completion expected late this year or early next year.
The front-entry renovation is not quite finished. Some lights and shelves still must be installed, and new trophy-case space is being added.
In the shrine, permanent benches will be installed, and mosaics of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary have been commissioned to flank the photo of Father Kuemper.
“A mosaic is a stonework of many pieces that make up the whole picture. Many parts, one body; many people, one school. And we’re united by love,” Feller said. “So the Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds the kids of the love of God for us, for the world. We want all our kids to have a relationship with Jesus, to encounter Him here. The Immaculate Heart of Mary exemplifies our response to God’s love. We want (students) to imitate her faith that was in response to God’s love. That’s why it’s so fitting to have both of those hearts here, those images, those devotions.”