“Oh, this helps a lot” was one teacher’s comment within an hour of the new air conditioning system being turned on last week at St. Malachy School in Rantoul when the temperatures were in the 80s.
St. Malachy Parish has had a school for 106 years. Like everyone else in education this past spring and summer, the parish pastor, Father Joel Phelps, worked diligently with the school principal, Mr. Dave Auth, the teachers and staff, and the Peoria Diocese to figure out how the school could safely open and operate this fall.
The current school’s original eight grade classrooms were constructed in 1962 and did not have air conditioning. The science lab, music and art rooms, library, kindergarten, preschool, cafeteria, and gym were added in subsequent expansions, and all do have air conditioning.
To open safely, mask wearing would be a must. Phelps and his team realized this could be difficult and uncomfortable in the original eight classrooms during hot days. He started looking at the cost of installing air conditioning in those classrooms, and just as important, how to pay for that.
The Henry J. Smith Charitable Trust was started by long-time parish pastor, Father Stanley Malinowski and a parishioner, Henry J. Smith, in 1996 for the sole purpose of helping St. Malachy School. When discussion of the air conditioning came up this summer, the trust informed Phelps it would cover the full cost.
Since its inception, the Henry J. Smith Charitable Trust has been supported by gifts and bequests from hundreds of individuals. The trust has been a significant contributor in the school expansions and more recently in making annual contributions to offset operating costs and to support teacher salaries and tuition assistance. More information about the trust can be found at its website www.henryjsmithtrust.org.
St Malachy School has been operating with in-person classes for about three weeks this fall. Online learning is also an option although more than 90 percent of students are attending in-person classes.
There are about 150 students at the school.
Safety precautions are in place and teachers, staff, and students are working hard, Father Joel Phelps said.
“The air conditioning will help to make the mask-wearing a little easier this year, as well as benefit students and teachers during the hot months (even in normal circumstances) for years to come,” Phelps said.