J.J. O’Neill Catholic School in Napanee breaks ground on new addition

Students and staff of J.J. O’Neill Catholic School were joined by board officials and other special guests as they broke ground on the new construction project. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

J.J. O’Neill Catholic School kicked off a new summer project today, but students needn’t worry: they will still get the summer off.

On Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2024, the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB) welcomed local representatives to J.J. O’Neill Catholic School to acknowledge and celebrate a groundbreaking at the school site, located at 240 Marilyn Avenue in Napanee. Members of the board, members of the parent council, and school and administration staff joined invited dignitaries and members of the press to officially break ground for construction on a major addition to the building.

In May 2024, the ALCDSB approved the tender for constructing a $22,613,998 addition to J.J. O’Neill Catholic School. Salter Pilon Architecture Inc. was chosen as the architect for the project. Construction will begin this summer at the current J.J. O’Neill Catholic School property. A completion date has yet to be finalized.

The major addition to the school will accommodate 331 students in 14 classrooms and will also include three child care rooms for a public daycare.

In 1970, an 11-acre property at the end of Marilyn Avenue was purchased for $22,500 for a proposed school, and a Catholic school zone was established for the Town of Napanee and area. According to the school’s website, a November 1976 survey indicated that 89 children might attend this Catholic school. At that time, the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington County Roman Catholic Separate School Board decided to proceed with a temporary building. The temporary portable school, called Napanee Separate School, opened in the fall of 1977 with four classrooms, 104 students, four teachers, a part-time secretary and a part-time custodian.

Ruby Marlowe, a grade 8 student, read a prayer asking God to bless the students and the new building. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The school is named for Rev. John Joseph O’Neill, who became pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Napanee in 1969 and was instrumental in purchasing the land for the school. He was a vocal advocate and driving force in the community and parish for the Catholic school, Napanee’s first. In 1978, Napanee Separate School was renamed J.J. O’Neill Catholic School in his honour.

An allocation of funds was approved for the core unit of the permanent school in March 1982. Construction was completed in January 1984, and the school expanded to seven classrooms, 203 students, 11 teachers, a part-time secretary, and a full-time custodian. The official opening and blessing of the school took place on June 17, 1984.

Left to right: Rev. Marek Chochrek (offering a blessing), ALCDSB Director of Education David DeSantis, Principal Kevin Dorey, and J.J. O’Neill parent council members Ashley Murphy-Pedro, Beth Casselman, and Michelle Hannah. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

J.J. O’Neill Catholic School has continued to expand in the 40 years since then, increasing physical space and making yard enhancements. The school presently has a student population of around 300 and a staff of over 30. Current principal Kevin Dorey even installed a skating rink to help morale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February 2022, the province announced it would invest $9.9 million to improve Greater Napanee’s only Catholic school as part of the provincial government’s commitment to “building modern, accessible, and technologically connected schools for Ontario youth.” 

“This major addition will provide exciting opportunities for our elementary students in Napanee and the area,” said David DeSantis, Director of Education for the ALCDSB. “Our Catholic school board is focused on providing innovative learning communities to allow our students to reach their potential through faith and service.”

J.J. O’Neill students offered a land acknowledgement and prayers.

Board Chair Terry Shea, Rev. Marek Chochrek, and Superintendent of Education Michele McGrath also shared greetings at the groundbreaking event.

Greater Napanee Mayor Terry Richardson congratulated the school board: “It is really exciting for the municipality to see these things happening here. Growth and expansion, especially of a school board system, are welcome, and we are excited to watch the progress. Thank you for investing in our community. Thank you for caring, and good luck with the project.”

According to a news release, the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board serves approximately 12,000 students, employs over 1,400 full-time equivalent staff, and covers a geographical area of more than 16,000 square kilometres. In the words of the release, “The ALCDSB builds faith-filled learning communities where each member is loved, inspired, and successful.”

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