An aerial view of St. Ambrose Parish and School that will become Catholic Central School in the fall of 2022. (Photo provided)
An aerial view of St. Ambrose Parish and School that will become Catholic Central School in the fall of 2022. (Photo provided)

In taking a proactive step to strengthen the future of Catholic education in the Diocese of Albany, the Albany Diocesan School Board, under the leadership of Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, announced Nov. 15 it will create a new pre-K to 12th grade regional school in Latham.

The new Catholic Central School, which is set to open its doors in September 2022, will be made up of students from St. Ambrose School in Latham (pre-K to 5th grade) and Catholic Central High School (CCHS) in Lansingburgh (6th to 12th grade). The new school will be located at the 19-acre Latham campus that is currently home to St. Ambrose Parish and School.

“Catholic education is central to our mission and to our identity as a Diocese,” Bishop Scharfenberger said. “Catholic Central School is a shining example of what we can do when we think outside the box and create a vision for something new, something necessary, something that offers incredible possibilities for local Catholic students and their families. The fact that this new regional school will be linked physically and spiritually to the parish further solidifies the critical role of faith in this endeavor. I look forward to visiting Catholic Central School when it opens its doors and celebrating this giant step forward with faculty, staff, students and their families.”

Catholic Central School will be created in phases over the next few years. It will offer students a full academic journey in a safe learning environment at one central location. The new school will afford families the option to enroll their children at any stage of their education, accommodating the varying grade level configurations of any surrounding public or private school.

“The landscape of our Diocese has changed and so should Catho­lic education. This regional concept is an educational model we have studied, imagined and hoped to pursue when the time and place was right. This is our moment to put our students at the leading edge of Catholic education,” said Giovanni Virgiglio, diocesan superintendent of schools.

“Through this powerful partnership between two of our Catholic schools, we are going to be able to deliver a state-of-the-art education with even more extracurricular activities and offerings. The school will also actively expand upon higher educational partnerships,” he added. “CCHS has existing programs with several surrounding universities. We are only going to be able to enhance those offerings through our proximity to these institutions.”

Although architectural designs are still being finalized, initial plans call for 2022-23 to be a transitional year. Students will share St. Ambrose School’s existing 20,500-square-foot building. Wings, multiple entrances, and pods of classrooms will enable administrators to keep the three distinct age groups — pre-k and kindergarten, grades 1-5, and grades 6-12 — separated and, when needed, allow for purposeful interaction and mentoring opportunities.

Catholic Central School will be expanded by renovating and building upon St. Ambrose School’s existing structure, which includes 18 classrooms, a laboratory and gymnasium. Architects will provide a timeline for the project in the coming weeks with renovations to begin shortly thereafter.

Virgiglio also praised the “centrality of the Latham campus,” which is located on Old Loudon Road off Exit 6 of I-87 and accessible to all points on the map.

“St. Ambrose’s existing campus is 19 acres and this is an opportunity to look to the next century for Catholic education,” Virgiglio said. “It’s no surprise we have fewer Catholic schools than we did even a decade ago, so it is important that we look for creative models that not only complement our surrounding Catholic schools, but also facilitates accessibility geographically. Also, Catholic Central is coming up on their centennial year (in 2023) and now as we collectively look to the future, their board of trustees has recognized the limitations of a campus that has served them well over the years.

“The relocation to an extremely versatile campus will provide great opportunity not only for our students, but also for expansion and evolution as new families respond to this particular model of Catholic education.”

Virgiglio added that this move is “in line with our diocesan strategic priorities and system accreditation which seeks to foster innovative solutions to the ongoing challenges Catholic schools continue to face across the state.”

Catholic Central High School has a long tradition in the area, and was founded by Bishop Edmund F. Gibbons in 1923. The coeducational, college preparatory school was originally located on Eighth Street in Troy, which is now part of the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, before relocating in 1953 to its current location (625 Seventh Avenue) in Lansingburgh. Currently the school draws students from Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties. This year, CCHS welcomed 50 new students and added a sixth-grade class.

The announcement is a culmination of a study by the Capital Area School Development Association (CASDA), which was commissioned by the Albany Diocesan School Board to look at the future of Catholic education in upstate New York. The CASDA study, which looked at enrollment and fiscal trends as well as the Diocesan School Board’s strategic priorities, began in the 2018-19 school year and the report came back in 2019. The foremost recommendation of the study, Virgiglio said, was to explore a pre-K through Grade 12, centrally-located diocesan school.

This past school year, the Catholic Central Board of Trustees, per the study’s recommendation, continued to look at the feasibility of a move to the Latham campus. Virgiglio added this was coupled with the news that the facility in Lansingburgh required a $1.2 million investment for critical infrastructure improvements that students would see no visual enhancements to other than the existing bricks and mortar.

Nate Maloney, chairperson of CCHS’ Board of Trustees, added: “The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, CCHS, St. Ambrose School and St. Ambrose Parish unified as a team to create the new school. A ‘Futures Committee,’ which comprises representatives from each entity, will help to oversee the school’s creation.

“As CCHS approaches its 100th anniversary in 2023, we wanted to take action that will guide us into our second century. We are excited by the endless options Catholic Central School will provide to our students and how it dovetails with our shared vision for the future of Catholic education.”

Christopher Bott, associate superintendent of diocesan schools, said having St. Ambrose Parish on site is a key component as well.

“We are very much anticipating a strong relationship between the school students and the parish,” Bott said. “And Father Brian Kelly continues to be involved with the development of the new school. It will be a diocesan school, pre-k through 12, but in many ways it will have the features of a parish school with the church remaining right on site.”

Father Kelly agreed.

“The concept of the parish as the heart of Catholic Central School is important for many families seeking to anchor their child’s education in a faith-filled environment,” said Father Kelly, pastor of St. Ambrose Church. “Being located at St. Ambrose Catholic Church will open up new opportunities for students to participate in youth ministry and afternoon activities.”

Virgiglio added he is hopeful and expectant of a positive response to the announcement.

“I am quite proud of the inclusive process that has been facilitated thus far,” he said. “This process carefully examined the data before us, looked at the trends in Catholic education, as well as the challenges and opportunities that exist, and allowed for a strategic pathway to the future. And I think it will truly check a lot of boxes for our families both existing and prospective.”

And as many families move, Catho­lic Central is also taking that step.

“A CCHS alum who serves on the Futures Committee recently shared with me, as families, we move into new houses and make them our homes as we grow and our needs change over the course of a lifetime,” Virgiglio said. “It is now time for Catholic Central to move, just as it has done before, but it will take with it all of its familiar and familial hallmarks forging new traditions in partnership with St. Ambrose.”

In the coming weeks, the Futures Committee plans to launch a survey and host a series of informational meetings. “Our hope is that input from key stakeholders will help us to further refine our plans,” Virgiglio said.

For more information, or to reserve a spot for the 2022-23 school year, please call St. Ambrose School at (518) 785-6453 or Catho­lic Central High School at (518) 235-7100. A dedicated Catholic Central School website will be launched in the coming weeks featuring frequently asked questions and other important details.