'We kept teaching': Trinity renovations echo memories of post-fire reconstruction
Emerging from the ashes of a devastating fire, Trinity Catholic High School in 2014 faced a sort of rebirth.
"During all of this, I think we lost our identity," Trinity Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser said. "What is Trinity? What do we want to be when we grow up? What do we want to be?"
They found answers together—students, staff and faculty, laboring to learn through the din of construction, crossing through ever-shifting systems of tunnels to go to the gym or auditorium. It took a lot of cooperation—and a lot of grit.
"I think our students learned so much from adversity. We were having school in a construction zone," Glasser said. "There were jackhammers and cranes and tunnels kids had to go through to get to the auditorium ... but we never missed a beat. We kept teaching kids. The band was in the garage!"
The band embraced their new practice space, and made T-shirts declaring itself as "the Garage Band." Taking the challenges in stride, though, speaks to the character of the student body, and the example they were given to follow.
"Just what kids learn about, it's not about what's dealt to you in life, it's how you react. I think they saw us adults as an example," Glasser said. "We feel really good about what we accomplished—but a building is only a building. The school is the people. It's the kids, it's all about the kids. It's the teachers and the staff and the coaches and the parents and everyone.
The community support to help rebuild Trinity High School was impressive—more than $22 million was raised for reconstruction efforts. One of the co-chairs for that effort, Gene Jackson, provided comment on the experience via email.
"Achieving our fundraising goal of over $20 million dollars was most gratifying to all of us involved. The more remarkable aspect of the effort, however, was the recurring experience of hearing how so many in our community were so proud of this school system and so complimentary about what's being accomplished at the three Trinity schools," he said. "To witness the eagerness of so many donors to contribute because they valued what the Trinity school system stands for was a reward that those of us assisting with fundraising didn't anticipate when we started."
Once rebuilt, though, it became clear that more work remained—the auditorium and gymnasium had been largely spared the worst of the fire, yet could not escape the ravages of time.
"The gym was in dire need ... it was 20 years old, it became a safety issue. The floor had like 60 spots where we had to cut out boards ... the bleachers were unsafe, we were basically a lawsuit waiting to happen," Glasser said. "We decided if we were gonna do this, we should do this right. This gymnasium will serve generations. Not just this generation, but generations to come."
The gym is effectively completely overhauled, thanks to a generous loan from the Diocese of Bismarck and Bishop David Kagan, with new lighting, new bleachers, scoreboards—a nearly total overhaul.
"Everything is brand new—except for the wall. The bones are there. I think it's an incredible facility," Glasser said.
Father Kregg Hochhalter showed off the new auditorium, which is now completely carpeted. It also lacked its usual complement of seating—a new batch of chairs has been ordered for the auditorium and will be the last thing to be installed, with an expectation of completion by late September or early October.
"When they built the school and people came in here and saw the same cosmetics, people asked 'well, what have you done in here?'" Hochhalter said, looking around the spacious, seatless Trinity Auditorium. "When in fact, hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent on the heating, ventilation and cooling system."
There will be 988 new seats in the auditorium, and the new carpet will cover the ground floor, mezzanine and balcony levels as well. Community members can sponsor a seat in either the gym or auditorium for $500, which will go help repay the loan taken to do the renovations.
Finishing the structural repairs and construction is one thing, but it was building the school's culture that Glasser takes special pride in—a culture which demonstrates titanic qualities.
"I hope when you walk into this building it feels warm, you feel welcome. That's how it should be," Glasser said. "You have to have fun learning. Everybody, every student deserves to be safe and happy. Last year, K-12, we did not have one recordable violent incident. We never had a fight, never had an altercation. I think parents need to know that—because for a parent, number one is safety of your child."