St. Jean Vianney Catholic Church parishioners celebrated the culmination of a two-year capital campaign Jan. 5 with a ground-breaking ceremony for the Catholic school’s new gymnasium.

The 10,000-square-foot gym will serve the church parish, but is particularly important to the student body, whose basketball and volleyball teams will be able to practice on campus and host home games, both of which now happen off campus. Physical education classes are conducted either outside or wherever space will allow.

“We make it work,” said the Rev. Tom Ranzino. “We’ve had a wonderful partnership with Temple Baptist Church, where we’ve rented gym space for games and practices. We’ve done well with the space we have up to now, but this step will allow us to grow.”

The $3.4 million project will also include two meeting rooms, a covered portal at the front of the school and a partial renovation of the preschool building, which will be facing the new gym.

“Traffic will have to be rerouted because of where we are located,” said Amie Williams, who directs the preschool. “What is now the front door will be facing the gym, so what is now the back door will become the front door” as part of the renovation, she said.

While they’ve been raising money for the past two years, St. Jean Vianney parish has been working toward this day for the last eight years. It was then that the church administration called town hall meetings and asked for parishioners’ input on St. Jean’s future, Ranzino said.

A survey was compiled based on those talks, he said, and that went out for a parishwide vote.

The priorities determined during that process became the wish list for the capital campaign.

“We have had tremendous support,” Ranzino said, raising $1.6 million in contributions toward the project and another $2.5 million in pledges. Financing will be secured through the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, he said.

All St. Jean Vianney Catholic School classes gathered in the east parking lot despite the chill Monday to watch as Ranzino led the school in a prayer to bless the future site of construction, while representatives from each grade were chosen to participate in the groundbreaking.

“I know it’s cold. We’ll make it quick. Just look at the sand and pretend you’re at the beach,” Ranzino told students and teachers as the zipped up their jackets, pointing to the pile of sand with ceremonial ground-breaking shovels standing at the ready.

Elementary Principal Wendy Ross said everyone is looking forward to the changes.

“There is a lot of excitement in the air. The students and the faculty are ready to get the building under way,” Ross said in an e-mail to The Advocate. “During the school day we will be able to hold PE classes indoors so our students can still exercise even if it is rainy or cold. As far as our basketball and volleyball programs, we will now have the opportunity to host games on our campus making us the home team and hopefully make practices a little more convenient for our players and their parents. Having this new facility will only add to the well rounded experience our students already receive.”

The church held another ground-breaking ceremony Sunday for parishioners after Mass.