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School may replace South Bend hospital

– If $35.5 million can be raised by June 2011, a new St. Joseph’s High School will be built on the soon-to-be vacant site of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center.

It’s an ambitious goal in hard economic times but one that’s likely to be reached, said the Rev. John M. D’Arcy, bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese.

D’Arcy made the announcement Wednesday during a news conference at the current high school at Indiana 933 and Angela Boulevard.

“This decision gives the St. Joe community ... the continuance of this important school. It gives them an opportunity,” D’Arcy said.

The high school, now just west of the University of Notre Dame, would move to a 38-acre site between LaSalle Avenue and Cedar Street on the city’s northeast side.

The land would be donated by Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, which will close next month and reopen at a new facility in Mishawaka. The plan is to have the South Bend hospital site cleared by December 2010, said Nancy Hellyer, the medical center’s president and chief executive officer.

“When the hospital came forward and offered the donation of the land, it really was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to build a school on that much property,” high school Principal Susan Richter said. She thanked D’Arcy for his vision and his commitment to Catholic education.

D’Arcy said he met in August with representatives of the high school, hospital, Notre Dame and the Brothers of the Holy Cross. School leaders asked him for permission to try to raise the money needed to build a new school within a certain time frame, D’Arcy said, and he agreed.

Renovating the existing school would cost an estimated $23 million to $26 million, cause educational disruptions and wouldn’t necessarily provide enough space for all the school’s needs, he said.

For construction to move ahead, certain conditions must be met:

•The $35.5 million must be raised by June 2011. At least 75 percent of the amount must be received in cash and the rest in pledges before construction can begin.

•St. Joseph’s High School must be debt-free.

•The new school must accommodate at least 850 students; St. Joe currently enrolls 809 students.

•Most pledges must be paid over three years, with larger pledges ($200,000 or more) paid over five years.

If the conditions aren’t met, organizers will ask donors whether their pledges can be used instead for a major renovation of the existing high school, D’Arcy said.