24 Hour News 8 web staff - ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) -- For the first time in decades, the Diocese of Grand Rapids is getting ready to open a new school where one didn't previously exist in West Michigan.
St. Robert Catholic School is slated to open in Ada Township in the fall of 2018. The elementary school will be located at the St. Robert of Newminster Parish at 6477 Ada Drive.
"This is an opportunity for us to bring a Catholic school to an area that has not had one before," said David Faber, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Grand Rapids.
The Ada Township location is the first Catholic school the diocese has opened at a new site since Our Lady of Consolation welcomed students in Rockford.
"This is pretty rare. Yes, first time in 50 years," Faber told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday morning.
According to Faber, only 16 new Catholic schools opened nationwide in 2016. He credits the new school to an uptick in student numbers in West Michigan.
"In the last three years, through the bishop's Catholic schools initiative, we've actually had three years of enrollment growth in a row in the Diocese of Grand Rapids."
Over the last 13 years, the Diocese of Grand Rapids has gone from 43 schools across its 11-county span to 30. St. Robert's will be the 31st.
"It's exciting to see this growth following years of decline in Catholic schools around the country," said Diocese of Grand Rapids Bishop David Walkowiak. "But locally, we have experienced a resurgence of interest surrounding Catholic education."
St. Robert Catholic School pastor Fr. Leonard Sudlik said he doesn't see this rare move by the diocese as unusual. He says as the largest parish in the diocese, with between 2,600 and 2,700 households, it was only a matter of time before a new school opened.
"We're ready for the fall. Even though the press conference is [Tuesday] and the initial announcement has come out because we've been trying to tie things up," Sudlik said. "I've been in meetings for months and we've been looking at what we need to do, and there is a good plan in place to make it happen in the fall."
While most of the diocese's schools are an arm of a parish, St. Robert will be a nonprofit operated independently by a board of trustees. The diocese only has one other independent institution: Muskegon Catholic Central High School.
Faber said the move to open St. Robert's has been in the works for some time. The diocese was approached by investors from the area who saw the need for a Catholic school in Ada Township. After studies were conducted by a consulting firm out of Milwaukee, the diocese was determined to start with four classes in the fall of 2018.
The school will initially offer child care, preschool, kindergarten, first grade and second grade. After that, the diocese expects to add one grade each year through eighth grade.
As of now, St. Robert Catholic School has a parish life space. There are classrooms and large gathering areas used to accommodate the nearly 900 children they have routinely attend their faith formation classes. Those spaces will be renovated with over $1 million from the initial investors to update the space in order to meet regulations for classrooms.
Renovation will start in the spring of 2018 and run through summer and the school is scheduled to open in August.>>App users: Renderings and photos of the new school
**Correction: A previous version of this article stated the consulting firm out of Minnesota. That was inaccurate. The firm is actually in Milwaukee. Additionally, the article incorrectly stated the number of schools was previously 41; it was actually 43. These errors have fixed.
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