Noe Valley Voice February 1999

St. Paul's School Reopens on Church Street

By Pat Rose

It was Christmas in January for more than 200 students returning to the new St. Paul School at Church and 29th streets in Noe Valley.

"We have brand new desks and I-Mac's!" said seventh-grader Allison Wiggins excitedly, referring to the state-of-the-art, teal-colored Macintosh computers in every classroom. "I love it."

"It's cool to be in a new school," agreed Allison's classmate Bianca Mercado. "We've never had our own gym before."

The students returned to their new campus, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, on Jan. 11, after spending three years at the former St. James Boys High School at 180 Fair Oaks St.

The new St. Paul School was built on the remains of the former St. Paul Intermediate School, an 81-year-old building razed at the end of 1997 to make way for the new building. Because of seismic safety issues at the old school, students had been relocated to the Fair Oaks location three years earlier, in 1994.

St. Paul's principal, Sister Ann Cronin, who grew up in Noe Valley and was a teacher at the school before becoming principal eight years ago, is also excited about the new school.

"The classrooms are spacious and bright," she said. "The windows are double-paned to keep the noise out." In fact, the rooms are so quiet, Sister Cronin claims she couldn't even hear the children playing outside at lunch the first day. "It was too quiet. I was relieved to finally hear a truck go by!"

In addition to three floors of classrooms, the school boasts a new gym, complete with basketball court, scoreboard, and television monitors. Officially named Parish Hall, the auditorium also will house St. Paul's after-school programs and a variety of parish activities, such as pancake breakfasts and Friday-night bingo.

The third floor features a combined library and "technology" center, sporting the latest computer hardware and software, plus easy access to the Internet. "The place is wired for sound, but we're still working on getting networked," Sister Cronin said.

The new school is a curious mix of past and present. The architecture is modern and streamlined. But the entrance off Church Street incorporates part of the old school's gothic stone walls into the new structure, along with a sidewalk impression that welcomes you to St. Paul's. A stained-glass window in the library overlooks the new Macs in the technology center. In the Fine Arts Room, a pile of empty computer boxes sits next to a piano that has seen better days.

Though the move back to Noe Valley took place in the middle of the school year -- rather than in the fall, as originally planned -- drop-off and pickup of students was orderly and non-eventful the first day back, according to school administrators and parents.

Frank Monda, whose son Alexander is in the second grade, lives nearby and was delighted to be walking to pick up his son at a neighborhood school instead of driving to Fair Oaks. "We just don't have neighborhood schools like we used to when I was a kid. I'm ecstatic that my son is back at St. Paul's."

Sister Cronin said the current drop-off point is in the middle of the block of 29th Street (toward Sanchez), at the entrance to the school's side yard. This site was picked to avoid competing with the J-Church line or tying up traffic on Church Street. Classes start at 8:15 a.m., and school lets out at 2:45 p.m. (2:30 for kindergartners).

"Many of our kids from Daly City and the Outer Mission get driven to school. But the neighborhood kids generally walk," Sister Cronin said, noting that St. Paul's does not use school buses.

Most shopkeepers near the school did not anticipate any traffic problems and said they were happy about the students returning to the neighborhood. "We're excited and looking forward to having the kids back again. The school is an integral part of our neighborhood," said Tom Maravilla of Mikeytom Market at the corner of Church and Day. "It's also great to see the neighborhood put back together again, and it's nice to have the construction done and some parking spaces back."

Cecilia DeLeon of Stellings Market, a store across the street, agreed. "We're happy to have the kids back. We always have sandwiches and snacks for them."

According to St. Paul's pastor, Mario Farana, the price tag for the new school was $5.1 million. Much of the money was raised through the sale of parish properties (St. Paul's Primary School, High School, and Sisters of Charity Convent; see October 1998 Voice), but more than $2 million came from private donations.

"We had over 2,000 people who contributed private donations, in large and small amounts," Father Farana said.

The school project also had strong neighborhood support. "We've gotten favorable responses from the neighborhood, and we want to make St. Paul's more of a neighborhood school as time goes on."

Father Farana is arranging the date for an official dedication of the new school, with the Catholic archbishop presiding, sometime this spring or early summer.

To find out more about St. Paul School, at 1690 Church St., call 648-2055.