St. Francis gets $1M grant
• Photo gallery: Ching Foundation gives $1 million to St. Francis School
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
In the 86-year existence of Mānoa's tiny St. Francis School, yesterday's presentation of a $1 million grant for a new music and athletic building represented "the biggest day in our history," principal Sister Joan of Arc Souza said.
The children at the 432-student school roared when representatives of the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation presented Souza with a gigantic check yesterday that will fund a two-story building she hopes will open as early as January or February.
At St. Francis, 99 percent of the students are involved in music, sports or both, Souza said.
Freshman Heidi Acuna, 14, currently has to stand in a crowded line in the band room to get to her trumpet, a process that delays the start of music practice a good 10 minutes.
Blayne Won, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, lifts weights for the football, basketball and track teams on a makeshift outdoor weight area that sits on a concrete slope, exposed to the sun and elements.
Because there are no showers, lockers or bathrooms for athletes, Won and his teammates have to change for practice and games in the athletic director's office and use the undersized sink and toilets in the elementary school.
After each practice and game, Won has to wait until he gets home to 'Aiea to take a shower.
With the grant from the Ching Foundation, Won said, "We'll have the space to work out and compete with the bigger teams. And I won't have to go home to take a shower."
Since 2008, the Ching Foundation has committed about $34 million to schools, charities and other nonprofit organizations in Hawai'i, according to the foundation's president, Steve Gilley.
At St. Francis, plans call for a two-story, 30-by-100-foot building to be built on the lower campus, right next to the school's Ahuna Troubadome, a semi-permanent structure that houses St. Francis' indoor basketball court.
The ground floor of the new building will include the athletic director's office and a training room, weight room and showers, bathrooms and locker rooms for the girls' and boys' teams.
The upstairs will be used as meeting/study space and for Mary Ann Llamedo's music, choir and show-choir programs.
"Of course, we're ecstatic," Llamedo said yesterday in her music room, which was stuffed with instruments and music stands.
Once it's finished, the new building will be one of the biggest on the 11-acre campus.
Athletic director Sal Batoon has been making due with the spartan resources he inherited at St. Francis after moving over from Chaminade University two years ago.
Batoon put a tarp over an empty, outdoor concrete area and sanded and repainted rusted equipment to create a weight "room" that has only one bench sturdy enough to handle serious weight.
He turned an old closet in the elementary school building into the school's training room. And, since there's no other option, Batoon happily gives up his office so the players can use it as a locker room.
Souza is also spending $80,000 to buy the basketball floor used in this year's college Final Four in Indianapolis, which will be used in the Troubadome, along with portable baskets from the Dallas Mavericks, Batoon said.
A golf tournament is scheduled for June 18 at the Hawai'i Kai Golf Course to raise money for weights and other equipment for the athletic building, Batoon said.
With or without new gear for the new building, Batoon tells the students of St. Francis that it's unimportant to focus on the things they lack.
"We don't make excuses for what we don't have," Batoon said, as Won nodded his head in agreement. "We may not have a lot of things. But we can still make a major impact."