A bright new future for OMC

by Catherine Lee
Posted 3/27/24

Eighth graders signed a steel roof truss in the parking lot at Our Mother of Consolation Parish School on Monday. Then it was hoisted onto the top of the school.

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A bright new future for OMC


Dressed in his school uniform, a pork-pie hat and a colorful scarf, eighth grader Jabari Morgan used a cartoon-style font to sign his name on the steel roof truss in the parking lot at Our Mother of Consolation Parish School on Monday afternoon.

Once all the eighth graders had signed the truss, a construction crew used a crane to hoist it onto the top of the school – the first phase of the long-awaited renovations to the building on East Chestnut Hill Avenue.

Morgan, who lives in Mount Airy, was feeling nostalgic because he won’t be at the school when it reopens. “But I’m happy I had a chance to contribute one last art piece to the building,” he said.

The truss was one of more than 84 that were delivered to OMC last week, a year after a fire devastated the building. The school had planned to reopen in September of this year, but has delayed the reopening until early January 2025.

The significance of the delivery of the trusses on March 19 – the Catholic feast day of St. Joseph – “was not lost on us,” said Rev. John Fisher, pastor of OMC. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the school, of all laborers in fact. Once the roof is installed, “it’s full steam ahead” on renovations to the building, Fisher said.

Fisher said he expects the roof to be completed in about five weeks. Once new windows and doors are installed, the building will be “weather tight,” said Michael Pavelsky, the parent of an OMC eighth grader and senior associate and sustainability director for the Sheward Partnership, LLC, the architectural firm that created the design for the building’s new interior.

In the wake of the fire, which started in the roof, 850 tons of debris were removed from the 23,000-square-foot building. Floor joists, masonry walls, a wrought-iron staircase and a marble staircase remain. Everything else in the building was too water damaged to save. Chestnut Hill College has provided classroom space for OMC students and teachers since the school closed last March.

On the day of the fire, Pavelsky was giving a design presentation in Annapolis, Maryland, when his phone started pinging with text messages about the blaze. The news of the fire was devastating, but the reconstruction project has been “a game changer for OMC,” said Pavelsky.

“There’s a silver lining to the fire,” he said. “OMC will essentially be a brand-new building with incredible opportunities for learning that will change the dynamic of the school.”

The wrought-iron staircase and marble staircase will be refurbished – a nod to OMC’s past and a link to its history as an institution that has been educating students since its founding in 1863.

Renderings of the new interior created by the Sheward Partnership show a light-filled, state-of-the-art school with an information commons housing a library and computer workspaces, a campus ministry center, an innovation lab and a cafeteria – the first one ever in the building. An elevator and central air conditioning will be installed.

Pavelsky said he’s most excited about the cafeteria, which has a kitchen. The cafeteria will accommodate 60 to 70 students, so several classes can gather and socialize in a space that’s larger than a typical classroom. “OMC is a very strong, tight-knit community,” he said. “It’s important for kids to have the space to get up and move around.”

State-of-the-art smart boards will be installed throughout the building. Teachers will have laptops with software that enables them to connect to the smart boards. Learning will be enhanced, said Fisher.

In the innovation lab, students will learn computer coding, robotics and Computer Aided Design or CAD. Fisher, who spent 30 years teaching in Catholic schools, recently attended a STEM conference at Arcadia University in Glenside in the hope of recruiting candidates to help OMC “get the innovation lab off the ground.”

At the conference, Fisher said he was “keenly aware of how much classroom vocabulary has changed” since he stepped away from teaching eight years ago.

“Our students are going to be amazed by what they can do,” said Fisher, who has served as pastor of OMC since July 2022. “The lab will offer opportunities for them to analyze and synthesize information, to become critical thinkers. I’m so excited for them.”

After Easter, OMC will begin the quiet phase of its $2 million “One: Community Campus Campaign” – which will raise money to help cover the costs of additional needs of the school and other parish buildings.

On Friday, April 5, OMC will host a walk-a-thon at Chestnut Hill College’s soccer field to raise $30,000 to purchase teacher supplies and classroom library books that are needed for the reopening of the school. OMC students have already raised more than $17,000 of the goal through walk-a-thon pledges. To donate to the event, click here, https://independent.pledgebrite.org/fund/omc24

Ever mindful of the countless number of people and organizations that have helped the school since the fire, the parish plans to recognize their compassion and generosity at its annual Golden Night gathering and auction. This year’s event will be held Saturday, May 18, in the Rotunda of St. Joseph’s Hall at Chestnut Hill College.

On his desk, Fisher keeps a $5 bill sent in a letter by someone who wrote that they didn’t have a lot of money, but wanted to help, even in a small way. “It’s a reminder of the generosity that so many have shown,” he said. “Everyone is giving from their heart.”