The five-story brick building, with classrooms that will focus on math, science, and technology, will replace Brother Benjamin Hall for those purposes. Brother Benjamin Hall will undergo a $1.8 million renovation to house the 300-student middle school.
“In order to launch our middle school, we had to launch this construction project,” said headmaster Edward P. Hardiman.
The academic building and middle school are key elements of Prep 20/20 , a strategic plan announced by the school last year.
The plan also calls for construction of a new wellness/athletic facility within the next few years, and to increase scholarship aid at the Xaverian Brothers-sponsored school, where tuition next September will be $20,550.
“Today is a day we mark some important concrete steps toward making the vision of Prep 20/20 a reality,” Hardiman said, prior to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building on April 3.
Bulldozers already are clearing the site for the building, the first new construction on the 175-acre campus since 2008. The tennis courts formerly on the site have been moved to another part of campus.
The brick exterior and glass windows were designed to complement Xavier Hall, built in 1911, one of the oldest buildings on campus. Its soaring spire is a school symbol.
The new building will have 30 classrooms, 12 science labs, and three computer science labs. Administrative and faculty offices will be located there, along with guidance and health services. A robotics laboratory will be accompanied by a so-called “fab lab,” where students will be able to make mock-ups of their designs.
“It will be a lab with tools and space so they can engage, do their work, and exhibit it,” said Steve Cunningham, the assistant head of school for facilities.
The emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, should better prepare students for an economy increasingly driven by technology, Hardiman said.
“We’re really going to be developing skills to help them to become agile, to help them become innovators . . . as change moves forward at an exponential pace,” he said.
But St. John’s hardly is shifting away from its traditional emphasis on arts, humanities, and religion.
“We’ll be looking at potentially adding courses that would enhance and make our program of studies even more robust,” Crowley said. “Beyond that, we’d be looking at how we engage our students in the areas of ethics and moral development [around STEM learning].”
The 70,000-square-foot building also will include a two-story lobby, which will be used for school assemblies and meetings. A terrace will provide additional gathering space for faculty.
“We consciously designed it as a space that will foster collaboration and conversation,” Hardiman said.
The building is scheduled to open in September 2015, along with the new grade 6-to-8 middle school. St. John’s will join a list of other Catholic high schools in the area that have expanded by adding middle-school programs.
St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, which long had a seventh- and eighth-grade program, added a sixth grade in 2011.
“When you look at Catholic high schools, a good number are looking to expand. It really is another option to provide to families,” Hardiman said.
Sophomore Joe Zampitelli of Peabody gives the plan high marks.
“I think it’s going to be awesome,” said Zampitelli, 16, the co-editor of the school newspaper The Concordia. “It’s so unusual to have grades 6 to 12 in a school. It’s unlike a lot of other high schools.”
Each middle school grade will have 100 students. Tuition will be set at about 80 to 90 percent of the high school tuition, Hardiman said.
The middle-school program will be housed entirely in Brother Benjamin Hall, now one of the high school’s two main academic buildings.
“Both the new academic building for the high school and renovation of Benjamin Hall for the middle school will be completed at the same time,” Cunningham said.
Brother Benjamin Hall, built in 1963, was last renovated in 2003. Faculty space will be converted into a cafeteria. A library, wired for the latest digital technology, also will be built.
“This isn’t a high school bringing in grades,” Hardiman said. “We’re adding a middle school.”
St. John’s 1,150 students hail from 90 communities, stretching from southern New Hampshire to Boston. The middle school likely will draw from a smaller radius, Crowley said.
“I have a feeling our [range] might not be that widespread, unless a family already has a son that goes here,” he said.
Hardiman said he envisions budding new friendships on campus.
“My hope is for our high school students to use their gifts and talents to tutor and mentor our middle schoolers,” he said. “Having that responsibility can really help boys mature.”Kathy McCabe can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.