By Sue Botos
For many years, drivers have passed the roughly 55-year-old exterior of Lutheran High School West on Linden Road in Rocky River, probably noticing the adjacent football field, especially on a fall Friday night, but giving little thought to what goes on behind the outdated exterior.
One of the goals of a multimillion-dollar capital improvement campaign, now under way, is to give the school more “curb appeal” and, say school officials, bring the outside up to date with the “state-of-the-art Christian education” offered inside.
This exterior facelift is just one of the improvements planned for Lutheran West as part of the three-phase “Unleash the Spirit” capital improvements campaign, which kicked off with a dedication of the new football and baseball fields before last week’s home football opener.
John Buetow, superintendent of the Cleveland Lutheran High School Association, explained during a recent interview that the “Unveiling Bash and BBQ” before the game opened the public component of the campaign, the second launched by the school in 10 years.
“Last summer we did a feasibility study, and it was stated that our community was excited about the campaign,” said Buetow. He added that Phase One of the work, which includes the sports fields, was completely funded during “silent” fundraising, where private donors, faculty and staff were approached. The pre-football celebration opened the campaign to the public.
Also planned for Phase One is the renovation of the Jochum Auditorium into a dedicated performing arts center. “We’ll keep the same footprint, but we’ll go from a flat floor with folding chairs to theater seating and increase the capacity by 50 percent,” said Buetow. He noted the previous work in 2002 addressed the back stage, but this project will concentrate on the “curtain forward,” and includes construction of an orchestra pit. Buetow said it’s hoped that the job will be completed in time for the spring musical.
Buetow also stressed that all three phases will support Lutheran West’s Honors Academy, a select group of students in grades 9-11 who, among other requirements, must score in the 90th percentile in standardized tests. While taking an accelerated curriculum, Buetow said, the students are not separated from their peers. They do, however, make group visits to colleges such as Notre Dame and Georgetown, and hear a variety of speakers throughout the year, such as Court of Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose, sportswriter Terry Pluto and County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
“We’re well on our way to Phase Two,” stated Buetow, referring to the funding portion of the project that will include exterior renovation and the updating of energy efficiency. As with other Rocky River schools undergoing major capital improvements, the main office will be moved closer to the primary entrance of the building. Guidance offices will occupy the space vacated by the main office. While Buetow said this will also enhance the safety of the school, he stated that there are no security concerns.
“We do want to be proactive and also make our campus welcoming to all visitors,” he said.
Phase Three is called “The 100’s,” which refers to a group of four classrooms on the far north side of the academic wing. According to information outlining the capital plan, learning in these English rooms is “hampered by a minimally functioning heating system,” leaky ceilings and thin partitions, which allow noise to be heard from one room to another.
“This is our last buildable space on campus,” said Buetow, adding that the classrooms will be razed to make room for a new academic wing.
“We want it to be visionary,”
he stated, adding that an elevator will make the entire building handicapped-accessible.
As far as a timetable goes, Buetow said that Phase One will be completed by the end of the year, and Phase Two as a “stretch goal” by next summer. He said the final phase is “several years down the road.”
But there is one promise made to the community that stands above all the plans, according to Buetow. “We won’t move forward until we’re fully funded. We don’t want to be in debt.”