SIOUX CITY | After weeks monitoring the construction activity while looking northwest across Grandview Boulevard out of a window in the old Bishop Heelan Catholic High School, teacher Jeri Sturges was very pleased to be able to give Spanish class lessons in the new $10 million school.

Sturges was among the teachers and students who shared superlatives Friday, as they spent the first day of classes in the new Heelan school.

"It is really incredible. It just seems like they thought of everything," Sturges said.

"I had a student ask, 'What do you hate about the new building?' I said, nothing, I love every little bit of it."

The school replaces the former high school, just to the east at 1021 Douglas St. The new school was opened in two pieces. The fine arts wing opened in 2014, as of Friday now connects to the academic wing.

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Heelan Moving

Math teacher Mindy Oberle leads a tour of the new Bishop Heelan academic building in Sioux City on Friday.

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

Moving of furniture, books and other items from the old school occurred over the recent holiday break, Heelan Principal Chris Bork said, in the days from Dec. 21 to 27. Teachers spent Tuesday through Thursday readying for the start of classes.

"We're thrilled with the building. It is such an upgrade...It is fabulous. Our kids are walking around with their mouths open," Bork said.

The old school, where more than 10,000 students have been educated since opening in 1949, likely will be razed.

Sturges said she is well acquainted with the faults of the old building, after graduating from Heelan in 1985 and then teaching at the school for the last 25 years. She said "it felt old" more than 30 years ago when she was a pupil, and current students said the lack of building temperature consistency was a poor feature.

Still, seniors Jake Brown and Megan Janssen said it was somewhat bittersweet to leave the old building. Janssen noted some students were feeling angst on acclimating themselves to a new layout, no matter how functional and aesthetically pleasing.

"This school feels more modern. It feels very sleek," said Brown, who gets to spend his last semester in the new building.  Brown added that older cousins shared envy on his attendance in the new building.

More than 600 hallway lockers for the 500-pupil school shone with a blue sheen.

Built by general contractor W.A. Klinger, the high school academic wing gives news classrooms, administration offices, a counseling center and chaplain offices in 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.

"The technology is really nice. We have used it already," Janssen said prior to the noon lunch.

Sturges said she appreciated that teachers got to give input as the new Heelan plans were put together. Principal Bork said the teachers worked well this week, first in prep and then once pupils were ready to be taught. 

Bork said there were limited glitches on Friday, but a few key fobs weren't letting people in some doors.

"It is incredible. I am thrilled to be part of it, and really, really excited, not just as a principal, but as a parent of two kids who will graduate from Heelan," Bork said. "As a community, we made this dream come true for our students and staff. Our staff might be as excited as the students."

Since many buildings last for 60 to 90 years, Bork added that many people will never experience as students the splash of attending a new school in the first year. He noted that was the case as he progressed through Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn in Northwest Iowa.

"I never so much as saw a new addition put on a school," Bork said.

More pieces could be coming to the new facility. Pending fundraising of $3 million to $4 million, a new gymnasium could adjoin the southwest side of the school by the 2018-19 year winter sports season.

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County and education reporter

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