St. James Basilica and St. John's Academy are planning a $7.5 million project to update and expand the academy, according to Monsignor Jeff Wald, pastor of St. James Basilica.

"We want to offer the best space to provide a Christian education for the students we have now," he said.

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Fundraising for the $7.5 million project is off to a good start, he said.

"We started at the end of January and to date, we've raised $4.25 million from about 135 parish and community members," he said. "It includes parents at the school that are not Catholic."

Wald wants to wrap up fundraising this year.

"By the end of the year is my prayer," Wald said regarding the fundraising project. "That's not my hope but my prayer."

The construction project includes restoring a feature that has been absent from St. John's Academy for many years. The chapel available to the students was removed when a building was cleared to make room for the Zebedee Center gymnasium in the early 2000s.

The expansion project also includes a new cafeteria and kitchen, a commons area for meetings and student gatherings, renovations and expansion of the current classrooms, secure entrances and tripling the space of the child care area.

Wald said he believes the local public schools do an effective job of educating youth in the area, but parents should have options.

"We offer a faith-based alternative," he said. "It is important to people to have those options."

Plans call for building the 27,500-square-foot addition first and remodeling the existing building about 18 months after the initial construction begins. The renovations include creating a main entrance to the school on the south side of the building facing the Stutsman County Courthouse across the street.

"We want to maintain the dignity of the space," Wald said, referring to work planned for the existing school. "But bring things up to date."

St. John's Academy currently serves about 250 students in pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade.