Students share a window to the world of cathedral construction

By Emily Booker

When one of the largest church construction projects in the country is happening right outside your classroom, you can’t help but watch and wonder.

And talk about a teaching moment. It’s a feild trip right outside the school doors.

Sacred Heart Cathedral School students and faculty have a window to the world of cathedral construction, and they are taking advantage of the opportunity.

On April 7, second-graders at Sacred Heart met with project supervisor Fred Atkins to learn more about the new cathedral being built in front of their eyes. It’s part of a school-wide program to educate students and faculty about the project, and to satisfy their natural curiosity. The program was launched by Father David Boettner, Sacred Heart Cathedral rector, and Daniel Breen, Sacred Heart School principal.

Mr. Atkins, who is with general contractor Merit Construction, told the students how big the new cathedral would be, and what different types of materials are being used to build the new mother church for the diocese. He updated them about what part of the project the workers were currently on, and what would happen while the students were away on summer break.

Students had the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions about the project. Some had questions about the construction process, like when the bricks go up, how the dome is made, and what is steel.

After explaining how steel is stronger than iron, Mr. Atkins told the students that they would soon see lots of steel going up on the site.

“Think of it as your skeleton, as your bones,” he said. “That’s what steel is. It’s the skeleton of the building.”

Others had questions about the new cathedral once it was finished, like what color it will be, how many pews it will have, and whether there will be an elevator.

The students also wondered about the workers and asked about safety rules, lunch breaks, and if they slept at the construction site, since the workers are already on the job when students arrive at school and they are still working when students leave.

When asked if he ever got bored at work, Mr. Atkins laughed.

“Not here,” he said. “Not at all … what makes it fun is who we’re doing it for, what we’re doing it for, and why we’re doing it.” He thanked the students for praying for the construction workers.

Mr. Atkins has spoken to several grades as part of the program to get students involved in the cathedral construction. They study the soil and bedrock, the building materials, and the construction process. By doing so, they see the real-life applications of the math and science they are studying in their classrooms.

Mr. Atkins stressed the importance of a solid educational foundation when working on something as large and important as a cathedral.

“You have to have the mathematical background, some science, and you have to have the ability to absorb knowledge,” he said. “I have to admit, math is probably the strongest thing that is in our day-to-day (schedule) when you’re dealing with steel, concrete, and the components that make this a structurally sound building.”

Mr. Breen welcomes the educational influence the project is having on students. He said that, at the start of the school year, each grade level chose to tackle a question regarding the construction project. The exercise was called the “All-School Construction Project.”

“This project is an amazing learning opportunity for our students, and it taps right into children’s natural curiosity and interests. The learning opportunities and benefits far outweigh any inconveniences. The construction crew, led by Fred Atkins, does an amazing job of minimizing inconveniences and noise, and in maximizing safety and learning opportunities for our students,” Mr. Breen said.

Mr. Breen said Mr. Atkins has spoken directly with most classes in the school about their project questions and their interests.

“He is very knowledgeable and generous with his time,” Mr. Breen said. “We are having an all-school assembly at which our eighth-graders will lead the classes in presenting what they have learned. Each class is putting together a 60-90-second video to show what they have learned, and a student from each grade will speak in the assembly as well.”

Mr. Atkins said he enjoys sharing the construction progress with students, seeing their enthusiasm, and hearing their many questions, as they pay close attention to the work going on around them.

“It amazes me, their interest; because you can tell that they are very interested.” Mr. Atkins said. “They have questions to ask about steel, concrete. And it amazes me that they remember the 111 piers and the bedrock. That really makes me proud that they remember that, what this is all based on, not only the construction, but the Catholic philosophy of how this has been built.

“It’s really refreshing to see that the school, the church, Father David [Boettner], and the whole staff want these children to be involved,” he said. “And by no means is it an inconvenience to our day. It really, really has been an inspiration to the construction part of it.”

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