There was plenty of praying going on about education in the Twin Cities a decade ago. The prayers were answered when three faith-based schools — Trinity Lutheran School, Central Catholic High School and Cornerstone Christian Academy — all opened their doors in 2003.
A growing population, demand for more faith-based education and the need to replace aging school buildings prompted the unusual building boom. Population growth and building function also led to construction of the new Normal Community High School that same year.
While the national economy in 2003 was in a slump, the Twin City economy continued to chug along: unemployment was the lowest in the state and other major building projects — notably the new Children’s Discovery Museum — were evidence the community was on solid financial ground.
So, there was a sense of cautious optimism when all three tuition-based schools decided to build new facilities and began raising the needed cash to get the projects underway.
Trinity Lutheran was the first to open, in January 2003. Founded in 1858, it had more students than Bloomington District 87 in its early days, and experienced another growth spurt in the early 2000s, creating a space crunch in its shared home with Trinity Lutheran Church at 801 S. Madison St., Bloomington.
It was bursting at the seams with six portable classrooms in use. Preschoolers, holding a rope, crossed the street to their classes in a small house. “It looked like a little group of ducklings,” recalled the Rev. Tom Wirsing.
The new $4.4 million school provided improved accessibility, a new gym, and the ability to adapt to changes in technology.
“It was coming to the promised land,” said Principal Shawn Hoffmann. “I’m amazed by God’s people — how they band together.”
Tuition for students in K-8 is $2,480 for Trinity members, $3,720 for nonmembers and various levels for preschool. In response to a parents’ survey, the school is planning more classes for children ages 3 and 4 in the fall. To make room, the library will be converted into classrooms this summer.
“We’ll need to have more space,” said Wirsing. Enrollment is 364 — up about 30 students from when the school opened. Eventually, the school could build an addition with a multimedia room and more classrooms, Hoffmann said.
“We are investigating an expansion. There’s no timeline yet,” he said.
CCHS Principal Joy Allen recalled the talks about whether to build a new $12 million high school that opened in August 2003 on Airport Road near the Central Illinois Regional Airport.
“We did the cost comparison,” she said, including how much it would cost to repair the school built in 1928 for $28,000 at 712 N. Center St. Renovations, including removing asbestos and improving accessibility were considered, but rejected and fundraising soon started.
“I’m a proud momma,” said Allen.
CCHS, now filled with artwork, colorful murals, and symbols of the Catholic faith, was strikingly bare when it first opened.
“It was so white,” recalled Scott Vogel, the school’s director of advancement.
JoAnn McGraw, director of alumni and public relations, appreciates the school’s heating and cooling system, remembering the radiator in her former cramped office that would make the room so hot in the winter she had to open a window. One day, she walked into the hallway and discovered she had snow in her hair.
At its previous location, CCHS used various off-site sports fields, but two years after the new school opened, a football stadium was built with donations and money from the sale of its former sports field near Hershey Road, Vogel said.
This year, school-wide wireless was installed.
“Teachers are working on preparing for using technology with each student having his or her own device,” Allen said.
As with Trinity and Cornerstone, CCHS has seen enrollment increase in the past 10 years, though there were dips during the recession. CCHS opened the new building with 323 students and reached about 420 at one point. Current tuition is $6,625 and enrollment is 357.
Cornerstone Christian Academy continues to expand as money becomes available and according to God’s plan, said April Kinzinger, director of development at the school on Ireland Grove Road east of Bloomington. Of the three new schools, it was the last to open, in December 2003.
It began in 1997 as a preschool at Eastview Christian Church and now educates about 400 students from kindergarten through high school.
The new school’s opening, aptly after Thanksgiving weekend, was a coming together of students from three separate sites: Second Presbyterian Church, Bloomington; and Faith United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church, both in Normal. Tuition is between $6,800 and $7,500 depending on grade level, with lower fees for preschool.
Prayers were answered again in 2007 when construction of the high school’s shell began — the same year as the first high school graduating class of nine students. The high school space stood mostly empty during the peak of the recession.
Kinzinger remarked she knew “God was up to something” last year when they were looking for 40 desks for future expansion and 300 were donated from other schools. A month later in 2012, an anonymous gift of $435,000 arrived that allowed for construction of classrooms, a music room, science labs and a library/research center.
“We feel very blessed and the kids love it,” Kinzinger said.
There are plans for three more additions that would bring the school’s capacity to 700 students.
“We look forward to what God has for us,” she said.