Dolores Mission School officials are hoping a new building for kindergartners will improve enrollment at the struggling parochial school in the Pico-Aliso neighborhood.
Principal Michael Marasco, awaiting delivery of the modular building on Friday, said the children and their teacher can move in to the building in a couple of weeks after utilities are hooked up and the city inspects the classroom. For now, classes will continue to be held on the stage of the auditorium.
"It's been difficult having the students down in the auditorium," Pastor Michael Kennedy said. "I think (the classroom) will help the morale of the school."
The kindergarten program is essential to the future of the school because it feeds enrollment into the first grade, officials said.
"It's very hard to maintain our enrollment without the kindergarten because if (students) start at the public school, they want to stay there," Marasco said.
When he arrived for the 1992-93 school year, the school enrolled 115 students. The kindergarten program began that year, with an enrollment of 30 to 35 children, he said.
Most of those children have stayed on at the school as first-graders--a trend Marasco credits with increasing the school's enrollment to 260.
The $50,000 construction project was helped with a $20,000 grant from the Weingart Foundation and Marasco's father, Ronald, who donated his time to coordinate construction and get it through the city permit process. The permanent foundation was laid the week before Christmas.
Church officials decided to build the classroom space a year ago after missing out on a kindergarten building project undertaken for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The archdiocese teamed with Mayor Richard Riordan to construct the kindergarten buildings and supply them with computers under Riordan's Writing to Read program.
"For some reason, Dolores Mission never got in on that philanthropy," Marasco said. So the school had to start from scratch, seeking out foundation grants and starting a kindergarten construction campaign.
The school, at 170 S. Gless St., opened in 1959 in one of Los Angeles' poorest neighborhoods. In 1991-92, enrollment fell and the archdiocese proposed closing it along with two other Eastside Catholic schools.
But former Pastor Pete Neeley managed to keep the school open and hired Marasco with the hopes of improving enrollment.
Despite the increase in students, the school continues to struggle financially, Marasco said, because many of the parents do not have the money to pay the monthly tuition of $85 per child, the lowest in the archdiocese. Only 35% pay that rate, while the rest pay what they can, he said.
Marasco must make up the difference by raising donations of $5,000 to $6,000 a month.
Still, the new kindergarten class will brighten the prospects of keeping the school open if it can ensure a steady stream of students. The classroom was to open by September, but the permit process, unexpected soil tests and fees delayed construction.
"I'll believe it when the kids are in there," Marasco said, "but if there's another stumbling block before we get in there, I won't be surprised."