SIOUX CITY | The days are ticking down, with a new Bishop Heelan High School set to open in a month, right after the holiday break.

Enthusiasm is running high for a $10 million academic wing, which is nearing completion.

Natalie Callaghan, a Heelan senior, said there is considerable excitement over the addition.

"I've heard the science labs will be amazing. I think I will most like the modern amenities," Callaghan said as local media members toured the new addition Wednesday.

The academic wing opens for classes on Jan. 5, which Heelan spokeswoman Janet Flanagan said "is a major transformation from the current school." Heelan officials are planning a special procession for that day.

Flanagan, Callaghan and Heelan Principal Chris Bork spoke as they walked through the new portion, for which construction started 15 months ago. The design features wide hallways and spaces illuminated by 977 light fixtures. The scent of fresh paint lingered in the air.

Rows of hallway lockers -- 629 units for the 500-pupil school -- shone with a blue sheen, as a host of nearby workers put down flooring or handled electrical tasks.

"This will be a really neat, clean, distinctly Catholic environment for our students to learn," Bork said.

Sioux City general contractor "W.A. Klinger has been great to work with and all the subcontractors, most of which are from Sioux City," Bork said.

Bork also joked with Callaghan, "Your job is to see this and go back and tell every student how great it is."

It has been a bountiful construction era at Heelan. A new fine arts wing, opened in 2014, connects to the academic wing. A temporary wall between the two wings will be torn down in upcoming days.

The combined space covering two floors will replace the current high school, just to the east at 1021 Douglas St. Bork said the aging school, where more than 10,000 students have been educated since opening in 1949, likely will be razed.

In 2015, Heelan also opened the Father Patrick Walsh Administration Offices at 50 13th St. The new administrative offices were named for a longtime retired Heelan president.

Heelan supporters privately raised funds for the new high school campus, with a total price of $25 million.

School officials also hope to raise an additional $3 to $4 million for a new gymnasium that will adjoin the southwest side of the new school. The new gym is expected to open by the 2018-19 year winter sports season, Bork said. It will replace Heelan's aging, smaller gym, which Crusader fans affectionately call "The Pit."

The high school academic wing gives news classrooms, administration offices, a counseling center and chaplain offices more than 55,000 square feet. In addition, it contains significant upgrades in technology connections, plus lecture and science labs and learning centers in which students can conduct group work.

There are 29 classrooms, 15 upstairs and 14 on the main level. In some places, large crosses have been prominently placed into the architecture.

Some of the moving of classroom materials will begin on Dec. 26, shortly after the holiday break begins. On Jan. 2, Heelan will start moving furniture, books and "70 years of stuff" from one building to the other, Bork said. The school will have three days to complete the move before students return to classes.

Callaghan, a Dakota Dunes resident, said some of the best changes involve the impact of weather on schooling. She said it will be nice to no longer have to walk from the old school to the fine arts wing on cold days. She also looks forward to having air conditioned classrooms during warm days in the spring.

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County and education reporter

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