Construction hums along at Cardinal Newman as new school year begins
On the north side of the Cardinal Newman campus, the charred trunks of oak trees burned in last October’s Tubbs wildfire are still visible.
They mark the path the fire took before it reduced the school’s library to rubble and blackened the north wall of its eight-classroom humanities building, causing roof and smoke damage so severe that only four of its classrooms were usable this spring.
The effort to rebuild the Santa Rosa campus’s fire-damaged northside began in earnest this June, just after students and staff left for summer vacation. First came the hazardous material removal, then the rest of the building’s interiors.
As excited students gathered outside the Athletic Convocation Center Aug. 14 for registration day, demolition crews tore away the last of the humanities building’s inch-thick yellow cement facade, their hammering echoing across campus.
Sophomore Dylan Miller stood with a group of friends next to the athletic center, waiting to get his picture taken. A cardinal red T-shirt with “Our School United” emblazoned across the front was slung over his shoulders. Designed by Dean of Student Life Graham Rutherford, the shirts were given out to students as they arrived on campus.
Enrollment this year was 570 students, though administrators hoped for closer to 590, said Laura Held, school president. Prior to last year’s fires, 620 students were enrolled in the school.
After the fire, Newman’s students were split up by class: Freshmen went to Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa; sophomores went to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Windsor; the juniors were at St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Rohnert Park; and seniors were at St. Joseph Church in Cotati. They didn’t return to what remained of their campus until after winter break.
“I’m excited because it feels like a fresh start,” said Miller, 15. “It feels like everything’s going to go how it’s supposed to go, and it’s going to make up for what last year was supposed to be.”
Final design plans for the new humanities building are nearly finished, a $4.25 million project helmed by Santa Rosa-based Quattrocchi Kwok Architects. John Dybczak, principal at the firm, watched his son and daughter graduate from Cardinal Newman in 2011 and 2015, respectively, so the school holds a special place in his heart.
“When I first heard about it, it sounded like it could be a rumor because you just don’t expect something like that is going to happen,” Dybczak said about the fire. “I was a parent at Newman for eight consecutive years. ... I know everybody over there.”
In all, the Tubbs fire destroyed the school’s library, front office and 20 classrooms, causing an estimated $15 million in damage.
A preschool building Dybczak designed for the adjacent St. Rose Catholic School, where his kids also went, burned down in the fire, too.
“It was sad,” he said. “A lot of work went into that, and it was a building that I think a lot of kids went through and really liked. It was a great little building for them.”
He expects construction on Newman’s humanities building to wrap up in January, just in time for students to return from winter break. The nearly 10,000-square-foot space will feature the same eight-classroom layout as before, only with four center walls converted to moving glass partitions, allowing teachers to use the space as they see fit.
Each room will have a touch-screen smart television attached to the wall and a sound reinforcement system so teachers can speak into necklace microphones rather than shout to be heard at the back of the class. Large windows will create a more open feel for the space, which previously featured narrow plate glass well above eye level.
“We’re going to have the learning environments that we’ve talked about for a long time that will give teachers a more flexible teaching space,” Held said. “We can start to accomplish some of the goals we’ve talked about — how to better personalize learning.”
Its open and airy design will serve as a design model for future building projects on the campus. The school is currently working on a master plan that’ll eventually mean an overhaul of the entire grounds. The library, lost in the October fires, is the next project on the list.
“It’s been a long walk uphill,” Rutherford said. “You’ve just got to keep moving, to keep going. ... Now, we’re going to be able to run a little.”