St. Bernard’s School starts building campaign

A fundraising sign outside St. Bernard’s School in Saranac Lake shows the school has so far raised $50,000 toward an overall $750,000 goal. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — St. Bernard’s School wants to raise $750,000 by the time it celebrates its centennial to pay for major upgrades to its River Street facility.

“We’re hoping to do a lot of construction work on the building,” Principal Ray Dora said Wednesday. “It’s an old building, and it’s had a lot of wear and tear over the years. The goal is to get the building back in shape for 100th anniversary in 2022.”

The Catholic elementary school got its start in 1922 in a small, wood-framed house where the school’s playground is now. Two years later, construction of the current school building was completed, but its exterior masonry hasn’t seen much work since then, Dora said.

“The whole move forward toward looking at the building came about because we had a large chunk of concrete fall off the back of the school, about three years ago now,” he said.

That led to an evaluation of the building by Chris Caldwell, a local painting and insulation contractor whose daughter attends the school, and other members of the school’s Buildings and Grounds Committee: Dora, Scott Stoddard and John Burth.

“We started from the roof, and we went all the way down to the basement,” Caldwell said. “We prioritized what needed to be corrected immediately, and that is the masonry on the exterior. We had a couple engineers look at the building. They said it’s structurally sound but it needs cosmetic work due to water infiltration.”

The school went through two bidding processes and eventually hired a contractor that specializes in masonry restoration, Lupini Construction of Utica. Caldwell said the company designed a 10-phase plan to remedy the building, “so we’re not doing it all in one year and we can raise money as we go along.”

Phases 1 and 2 were done over the last two years, including masonry repairs on the back of the building that cost the school approximately $79,000. Phase 3 will be the most expensive, Caldwell said.

“We’re looking at replacing lintels, which are the bottom concrete sills of the windows on the River Street side, the south side,” he said. “That’s the weathered side of the building.”

Caldwell noted that other similar-age brick buildings in the village have gone through extensive and expensive masonry repairs lately, such as the Hotel Saranac and the Harrietstown Town Hall.

“There are some iconic buildings in the area that have seen extensive masonry work done, and ours hasn’t,” he said. “It’s showing its age. Everything can be fixed, but it takes a tremendous amount of money to do it.”

The brick and mortar work accounts for about 75 percent of the school’s capital project. The rest includes replacing windows and doors, replacing the fence around the school’s playground and putting down new blacktop in its parking lot. Redesigning the playground and replacing carpets inside the school are also planned.

The school has formed a Capital Campaign Committee to spearhead fundraising for the project. It has a $750,000 goal, close to $600,000 of which would cover the 10 phases of construction, through 2022.

“We went above that to basically get a capital fund that would allow us to keep up with the maintenance rather than let it go year after year,” Dora said. “We’re really in the initial part of it. We’ve been looking at some grants. We’ve connected with a few big donors, and now we’re going to connect a lot with our alumni and plan some events.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, which this week announced its own $15 million capital campaign that will start next spring, gave the school a grant to help with the first two phases of its project and has also offered to provide a loan as it moves forward, Dora said.

St. Bernard’s School currently has 73 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Dora said that number is projected to grow to 80 this fall.

Caldwell said if anyone is reluctant to donate to the school because they’re worried about whether it will stay open, as other Catholic schools have closed, they should know that “our school is actually growing in population.

“That bodes well for what the school can do in terms of offering an alternative education for kids in the area,” Caldwell said. “But like anything, it needs work and it needs money.”

More information on the capital campaign is posted under the “Giving” tab at