TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

January 18, 2013

Sisters could sell St. Camillus property

Hope buildings and land can be put to public use

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble, Staff writer

The organization that owns St. Camillus Academy confirmed Thursday that they’re looking at options to sell the buildings and property of the Corbin school.

An official with the Sisters of Divine Providence also said the decision to close the school in May was “painful,” and was done due to the school’s financial losses taken on by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, which operates St. Camillus.

The decision was made Friday by the diocese and the Sisters, who are based in the community of Melbourne in northern Kentucky. It was announced Tuesday to the St. Camillus staff and school board, and to the students Wednesday.

“I don’t know what will happen next, but we are looking at those options to sell. The hope is maybe a community college could use the facility and it could make a nice satellite school for somebody. Maybe it could be bought by the city of Corbin,” said Sister Fran Moore in a phone interview Thursday from St. Anne Convent in Melbourne.

Sister Fran is Provincial Superior of the U.S. Province, Sisters of Divine Providence. St. Anne Convent is the headquarters of the American Province of the sister’s Congregation. According to their website, the convent is considered “home” to the Sisters of the American Province.

She added the buildings on the school grounds are in excellent shape, and would be attractive to those wishing to buy the property.

“One of the buildings is brand new. It’s the primary school building built a few years ago. And the other classroom building was built in the 1970s,” said Sister Fran.

The primary school building referred to contains the cafeteria and four classrooms, and was dedicated in December 2004. The smaller classroom building was constructed in 1972. At the time, it was built to handle 300 students in grades 1-12, back in the days when St. Camillus had a high school. Classes began in the building in September 1973.

Sister Fran touched on the money problems, and noted another reason caused the closing, which involves key people in the classroom.

“We can’t continue financially. It’s an excellent school, and St. Camillus has had a fine reputation forever. The facilities are in excellent shape, but circumstances don’t allow us to continue to keep the school there. We don’t have too many teachers left, either. Some of the teachers have gone into other professions, and we no longer have a lot of teachers as a result.”

Last Friday, Diocese Superintendent Tim Weaver met with the Sisters at the convent and discussed the school’s situation. He said in a Times-Tribune story Wednesday that while the enrollment increased some this school year, the school overall had lost students from two years ago when St. Camillus had around 130 students. That was when the Lexington Diocese and the Sisters signed a three-year agreement, allowing the diocese to operate the school. Weaver noted it cost the diocese $268,000 to cover all expenses in the last two years, and that a provision in the contract allowed the diocese to terminate the agreement, due to financial reasons. Weaver said as a result, both the diocese and the Sisters agreed to close the school, adding, “They (the Sisters) are not able to continue the school on their own, either.”

When the decision to close was announced Tuesday, Sister Fran discussed why the school would be shut down in May.

“We wanted to make sure that the parents and children had the time to make a decision to where their children will go to school. And that the teachers and staff will also have time to look for employment. We don’t do things without a great deal of consideration and discussion. And we plan. We are open to whatever possibilities seem to be.”

Currently, St. Camillus has 83 students in classes from Montessori to sixth grade.

The school had its beginnings in 1908 as a parish school established by the pastor of Sacred Heart Church. When he asked for help and services from the Sisters, they came, and in the fall of that year, Sacred Heart School was opened. The Sisters began the current St. Camillus Academy in 1913. The 35-acre property currently housing the school was bought a year later, with construction of the massive academy building overlooking Master Street going on for much of 1914. The structure was dedicated in May 1915.

But the last 15 years saw the school’s fates and fortunes begin to change. A decline in enrollment and increasing expenses caused the high school to close in 1996. With the primary school building finished in 2004, the old academy building became vacant and no longer used. In June 2008, the structure was demolished, to the dismay of some Corbinites who hoped the building could be restored and made a historical landmark. And in 2011, the school dropped seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

Sister Fran admits the decision to close St. Camillus was not an easy one to make. She added the next few months will be crucial in determining the future of the site that’s become a Corbin landmark for over a hundred years.

“Oh yes, it was painful. We invested a lot of time, money and personnel in Corbin at the school. Some of the Sisters went to school there, and many of the Sisters worked there. This is relatively new to us, and we’re open to options what we can do. And maybe some great idea could miraculously come up.”

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