Blanchet Catholic School leaders raising $4.4 million for campus improvements

Blanchet Catholic School principal and president Bob Weber stands in the school commons, build during Blanchet’s last capital campaign. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

In a bid to attract more students and remain competitive, Salem’s only Catholic secondary school is seeking millions for campus improvements.

Blanchet Catholic School leaders are working to raise $4.4 million to add a track and turf field to the school, as well as expand technology programs and improve the campus auditorium.

Bob Weber, the school’s principal and president, hopes the additions will attract more students to Blanchet while providing a better experience for athletes. Last year, the girls track and field team won a state title without having a track to practice on.

“We want doers. We want kids who are going to get involved in activities. The whole purpose of the campaign is to give kids more opportunities,” he said.

Investment in science and technology equipment would keep the school’s curriculum relevant, especially as public schools are expanding career and technical education programs.

“It’s to show our prospective families that this is important to us,” he said.

The school, located on Market Road Northeast next to Swegle Elementary, now serves about 320 students in grades six to 12, Weber said. That’s down from a high of about 400 a decade ago.

Many are involved in both sports and academic activities outside of class, with about 100 students participating in track and field.

“The emphasis on balancing extracurricular activities with academics is something that’s really unique about Blanchet,” said senior Nikhil Namburi.

He said he appreciates school leaders’ focus on keeping the science and technology curriculum current.

“He knows what we need to keep moving forward,’ Namburi said of Weber.

Blanchet students Saaya Yagishita, left, and Barry Xuan work on a project during ceramics class. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Since launching fundraising last spring, Blanchet has more than $3.25 million committed from donors, Weber said, enough to build the track over the summer. Leaders are seeking to raise another $1.2 million to expand tuition assistance and equipment for science and technology classes over the next five years.

The school costs about $3.5 million per year to operate, with tuition covering just under three-quarters of those expenses, according to public tax documents. Fundraising and private contributions make up the difference.

Technology teacher Rory O’Brien said students took quickly to learning basic programming and web design as the school expanded its offerings.

“They got that really quick. They’re making web pages about saints,” he said.

The school has added 3D printers and robotics kits and is considering adding virtual reality equipment.

O’Brien said his students would also make use of a new sports field.

“The programming kids are talking about having a space shuttle launch,” he said.

The plan also includes renovations to the Wiegand Arts Center to update sound and light systems and repaint.

Founded in 1995, Blanchet has undergone several campaigns since to improve its facilities, including renovations of a second gym and construction of a student commons that looks out on the field in front of the school.

Adding a track has always been part of the plan as the campus has developed, Weber said.

“This is really the final major facility piece that we need,” Weber said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or [email protected]

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.