By Shane Dale for Casa Grande Dispatch
All Sister Martha wanted was a preschool building for a community without a pre-K option.
Shea Homes answered that prayer, along with other prayer requests — even some that were never made — for St. Peter Indian Mission School on the Gila River Indian Community in Bapchule.
Shea Homes fulfills requests from impoverished schools around the country. Last year, St. Peter, along with three other Catholic schools, was invited by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to submit a renovation proposal to Shea.
“What we wanted above all was a preschool. It’s been on our list for years,” said Sister Martha, who teaches St. Peter’s 26-student junior high class. “So, I put that down as our first wish.”
St. Peter’s classrooms were made of adobe when the Franciscan fathers founded the school in 1923. Sister Martha wasn’t around back then, but she has a long history with the school, beginning in 1971 when she was sent there to teach third and fourth grades on her first-ever mission.
In 2014, St. Peter remained preschool-less, unable to serve some of Gila River’s youngest members. Sister Martha looked at Shea’s philanthropy as a chance to change that, even though she was told her request would be a long shot.
Last summer, Shea went to work and created a preschool that included two fully furnished classrooms, bathrooms with kid-sized toilets and playgrounds made specifically with 3- and 4-year-olds in mind.
Along with the preschool, Shea provided St. Peter with a renovated kitchen and cafeteria, expanding the old lunch building from 500SF to 2KSF. Shea replaced the cafeteria’s fluorescent lights with indirect lighting, added a communal sink to allow kids to wash their hands before and after meals, and helped the nuns convert a storage room into a food pantry where they collect food for the needy.
Shea also built a parking lot and sidewalks, repaved the basketball courts, reseeded the soccer field and erected a fence around the entire school. It added touches of blue and gold, the school’s colors, throughout the campus. Shea even put up new signage in front of the school.
Shea completed all of its remodeling and repairs, which cost a total of $2.4M, within 90 days — just in time for the 2014-15 school year.
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