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Prep begins work on center

St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows broke ground last week on the second phase of a $30 million renovation plan that includes a new physical education and athletic training center and space for art education.

“We have been looking forward to this day for quite a while now,” St. Francis Prep Principal Brother Leonard Conway told the more than 100 alumni, staff and community members who attended the ground-breaking ceremony Sunday.

The school launched its capital improvement program a little over three years ago and Conway said it chose the architectural firm of Perkins Eastman in the spring of 2007 to begin crafting a $30 million, long-term master plan for the school, at 61-00 Francis Lewis Blvd.

The first phase, which cost $9 million, was finished last fall and included infrastructure upgrading to the heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems. Now the Coach Vince O’Connor Physical Education and Athletic Training Center and an art education center are expected to be finished within the next two years.

The physical education center honors the more than 55 years O’Connor spent at St. Francis Prep, where he began coaching football in 1955. Under O’Connor, the school’s varsity football team recorded more than 290 victories and won 14 Catholic High School Football League of Metropolitan New York championships.

The new art education center will be located at the top of the west wing of the building complex in the former convent, which has now been completely gutted to make way for the 8,000-square-foot facility that will house nearly 30 visual and fine arts programs — more than any high school in the area, according to St. Francis Prep officials.

Conway said school officials are especially looking forward to the major technology upgrades that will occur during the second phase, a “key element of which will be the installation of a SmartBoard in every classroom.”

SmartBoards are interactive white boards that have gained popularity among educators across the country.

Officials said when the master plan is completed, it will have completely modernized a school that celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2008.

“Future phases include a new building that will house our science and music programs, while the final piece of the puzzle involves creating a new front entrance way to the school with new administrative offices and a large chapel that will become the focal point of all our endeavors.”

St. Francis Prep is relying on donations from alumni and other groups to fund the capital improvements. Conway said their capital campaign had an “auspicious” start thanks to excitement surrounding the 150th anniversary, but the school saw donations drop off during the economic recession.

“We are now ready to begin the campaign anew and I am very pleased to announce the campaign for St. Francis Prep — the next 150, our renewed effort that will build upon the more than $5 million that has already been committed toward our longterm goal of at least $15 million.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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