By Ethan Forman
---- — DANVERS — St. John’s Prep plans to open a middle school program by September 2015, school officials said Monday.
The Prep 20/20 strategic plan also includes construction of a new high school building on the Spring Street campus dedicated to math, science and technology, plus construction of a new wellness center for athletics, fitness and health education.
The new middle school would add 300 students in grades six, seven and eight and occupy Brother Benjamin Hall, said St. John’s Prep Headmaster Edward Hardiman, who unveiled plans with trustees Chairman Bernard Caniff and Principal Keith Crowley in a press conference Monday morning.
“I’m confident the plans outlined today will strengthen and enrich the Prep experience for future generations,” said Caniff, a 1972 graduate and father of two Prep alumni.
School officials did not put a price tag on the cost for the new buildings or the middle school expansion. Hardiman said the plans unveiled yesterday were an overhead view of the future of the 106-year-old prep school. St. John’s Prep is a Catholic day school for boys with about 1,150 students in grades nine through 12.
The new middle school would add 300 students, 100 students per grade. The school presently has 110 faculty members, and the goal with the middle school is to keep the student-teacher ratio at 18 to 1, Hardiman said.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after the announcement that the 128-year-old St. Ann School in Gloucester will be closing at the end of the school year due to declining enrollment and the failure of an expected Archdiocese of Boston-based $4 million capital campaign to raise any more than $265,000.
Officials at St. Mary’s School in Beverly had already reached out to some St. Ann parents and students in the wake of the school’s closing. St. Ann has long been the only Catholic school on Cape Ann.
The new St. John’s Prep middle school’s educational program would be comparable to the high school’s, officials at that school said Monday. Students who are admitted in grade six and progress through grade eight would not have to apply for the high school.
“We see this program as an opportunity to strengthen and further develop the overall Prep experience,” Hardiman said.
The plan is to renovate Brother Benjamin Hall, which was built in 1963 and now serves as a high school classroom building, for use as a middle school. It is one of the first buildings visitors encounter as you drive up the hill on Summer Street from Route 62.
This self-contained middle school will have classrooms, science labs, art rooms, counseling offices, a dining room and administrative offices.
The school Monday began advertising for a new associate principal to head the middle school, with the goal of having him or her in place by July 1 to develop the program and recruit faculty and staff. The middle school would open with all three grades, six, seven and eight, rather than starting in phases.
Hardiman said the Prep had seventh- and eighth-graders in the 1940s, but the program was eliminated during World War II.
The new high school building would house the school’s science, math and technology departments. There will also be a new counseling space and common areas for collaborative work among students and teachers, Hardiman said. He illustrated the need for such collaborative space when he spoke about the school’s 2-year-old robotics program, which presently does not have a dedicated space of its own.
Construction of the high school building is expected to begin in April 2014 and be finished in September 2015, in time to shift high school students out of Brother Benjamin Hall.
Construction of a new fitness center would take place sometime in the next five years. The school is starting to raise the money to build this center.
A key to these plans is a push to grow the school’s endowment, both to put the school on a secure financial footing and to provide tuition assistance to families to keep the school relatively affordable.
St. John’s Prep tuition in the coming school year will be $19,950, said Beth Forbes, communications director. By way of comparison, day student tuition is $40,300 at Governor’s Academy in Byfield, and $36,100 at the Pingree School in Hamilton. Tuition at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody is $12,600.
Hardiman said middle school tuition is projected to be 85 percent of the high school’s.
“Our dream and our vision is to develop the resources as a school to ensure no qualified young man is ever denied a Prep education for financial reasons,” Hardiman said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.