As it charts a $25 million renovation project, a local private school also recently closed a deal to become its own landlord in the Museum District.
Cristo Rey Richmond High School bought the former Benedictine College Preparatory School building at 304 N. Sheppard St. for $6.8 million.
Cristo Rey is a national chain of Catholic schools with 38 schools in its network. The school arrived in Richmond in 2019 and had since been leasing the former Benedictine school building, which came available after Benedictine relocated to Goochland County in 2013.
Cristo Rey employs a work study program that sees students work one day each week at local corporate businesses in all sorts of fields, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, law firm Troutman Pepper, investment bank Blue Heron Capital and medical group Virginia Physicians for Women.
The money students earn covers over 60 percent of their $15,000 yearly tuition. The school also says that with work study money and other funds raised, no student’s family pays more than $200 each month to attend Cristo Rey.
Rev. Peter McCourt, Cristo Rey Richmond’s president, said by the time Cristo Rey went into its first school year, the organization had decided to lease the entirety of the Benedictine building and adjacent gymnasium, which total over 51,000 square feet.
“Then over the last couple years the conversation evolved into ownership transition and owning the building as an asset,” McCourt said.
Cristo Rey bought the building in late May from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which had owned it since 2011. It sits on 1.3 acres and was most recently assessed by the city at $9.6 million.
Prior to leasing the building, Cristo Rey had considered constructing a new school from the ground up in the Southside, but instead signed the lease with the Diocese, even though the Benedictine building needed work.
“We realized very quickly that this building is a good blessing, but we’ll have to fix it up as well,” McCourt said.
The renovations are planned to wrap up in about two years and cost around $13 million. Combined with the real estate deal, McCourt said, Cristo Rey is investing between $20 million and $25 million into its Richmond campus.
The project won’t add significantly more square footage, but will allow Cristo Rey to grow its enrollment from 190 to 250 students and its staff from 38 to 45 for the 2022 school year, McCourt said, noting that they’re expecting enrollment to hit 350 for the 2023 school year.
“Most of (the project) is the reorganization of existing square footage to be a more efficient use of the space, as well as modernization of the facility itself to serve as a 21st-century school,” he said.
Quinn Evans is the project’s architect and Century Construction Co. is the general contractor. The engineering team includes Dunbar, Hulcher and Associates and Simmons, Rockecharlie & Prince. The brick building’s facade won’t be altered as part of the project, as the majority of the renovations are being done to its interior, McCourt added.
Cristo Rey’s first school year ended with a pandemic-induced shutdown. That, combined with renovating 110-plus-year-old buildings, growing the enrollment and actually teaching the school’s curriculum have made for a hectic start to Cristo Rey’s time in Richmond.
“I don’t like to do things small or easy, apparently,” McCourt said, laughing. “The necessity is that to grow the school, we have to have a facility to do that, and we need one that’s modern enough to deliver our curriculum.”
Despite the obstacles, McCourt expressed his gratitude to the Museum District neighborhood and Richmond at large.
“We’re in a residential neighborhood, so doing a school project like this could be fraught with a lot of difficulty,” he said. “But our neighbors have been tremendously supportive and we are greatly appreciative of that.”
Another major renovation of a former Catholic school is in the works just a block to the west of Cristo Rey, as local development firm SNP Properties is planning to convert the former Saint Gertrude’s campus at 3215 Stuart Ave. into 38 apartments.
Note: This story has been updated with new project cost estimates provided by Rev. Peter McCourt.