The community of St. Margaret Mary Catholic School, the oldest private school in Chino, is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year on a refreshed campus.
“On our 65th anniversary, we can feel the excitement in the air,” said St. Margaret Mary teacher and parent Arlin Lemus.
A celebration on Aug. 26 for the first day of school included balloon decorations, music, donuts in the morning and ice cream after school.
An all school prayer meeting was held the second day.
The school is located beside St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, built in 1947 at 12686 Central Ave., Chino.
The Reverend Richard P. Maher was the church pastor when the school opened Sept. 13, 1954.
According to church records, several Sisters of St. Francis came from Clinton, Iowa to start the school with 144 pupils enrolled in grades one through six.
In 1964, eight classrooms accommodated 405 students and in 1975 there was a “lengthy” waiting list.
This year, 333 students are enrolled from preschool through grade 8.
Jaclene Aguirre, a Chino resident and president of the school’s Parent Teacher Group, helped organize the first day of school celebration. Her father, Denis Valois of Chino, had attended the school.
“Invested families are what makes St. Margaret such a great school,” Mrs. Aguirre said. “You can feel the sense of community.”
Over the summer, several original classrooms were renovated with new windows, ceiling fans, flooring, cabinetry, paint and electrical.
The school entrance is freshly landscaped with a new brick walkway.
“The parents, students and teachers are proud of everything happening at St. Margaret Mary School,” Mrs. Lemus said. “You can definitely see it around campus and especially in the classrooms,”
The entire school campus, including the original wing built in 1953, is undergoing extensive renovations with phase one nearly completed.
Improvements include LED lighting inside and outside the classrooms, new phone and intercom systems, classroom technology, and 44 security cameras.
An expansive outdoor science classroom is near completion on what had been an unpaved lot with overgrown trees. The classroom is outside the newer section of the school that was built in the 1980s.
A new preschool trike track and grass area were also built in that area.
The John Shea Family Charities paid for about 85 percent of the improvements, said school principal Waylon Senn.
The Shea homebuilder charity funds projects that support Catholic education.
St. Margaret Mary Church pastor Father Mike Miller said the total value of the improvements are right about $1 million.
The final phase, planned for next summer, will include a STEM lab to be used for all grades for science, technology, engineering and art; a new school office; and a secured entrance gate.
Some of the work will be included in a capital campaign that will also benefit renovations at the church.
So far $3.3 million has been raised of a $4 million goal.
Twenty-five areas were identified as needing improvement, Father Miller said.
He said the last capital campaign at St. Margaret Mary Church was 30 years ago and one of the “vast needs” is for meeting rooms to accommodate various groups.
Also planned are renovations to the church interior, resealing the parking lots, and adding restrooms inside the church. Existing church restrooms were recently renovated.
The shrine area for the Lady of Fatima statue, which was vandalized last spring, will be relocated. A new marble statue, benches, and a fountain will be located within a new covered plaza area at the front of the church on Central Avenue.
A second plaza will be built at the side of the church.
The former convent which had been Sister Kathleen Cleary’s home, was damaged in a fire early this year and remains uninhabited.
“The inside is a loss and we are at a crossroads whether to preserve the building or replace it,” Father Miller said.
He said the convent was not included in the campaign, which was established before the fire.
“St. Margaret Mary has had an alive presence for a long time, and this is a way to continue it and double down on it,” Father Miller said.
“Our physical facilities are in the way we express our respect for Jesus and the gospel,“ he added. “We want to be a hospitable place for people to come.”