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updated: 2/13/2018 8:43 PM

Catholic school rises out of a vacant Kmart in Waukegan

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  • Video: New school in former Kmart

By Gilbert R. Boucher II

Students excitedly entered through glass doors to attend their first day of classes in the once-vacant Waukegan big box store that is the new home of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep.

"It's been a dream in the making for over 14 years. Finally, it came true through the hard work of a lot of great people. Students have a building they deserve in a true college prep environment," Principal Mike Odiotti said Tuesday after welcoming the students and teachers. "It will help us to continue with our mission of preparing each of our students to get into college and prepare for professional work all in the context of faith and justice."

The building at 3160 Belvidere Road was transformed from a vacant Kmart store into the high school's progressive new building after officials raised $18.5 million for the adaptive reuse project with help from JGMA architects and the McShane Construction Company.

The renovated building utilizes 18 classrooms, three science laboratories, a cafeteria, library commons area and administrative offices occupying 53,000 square feet of the former retail complex. The school plans to add more laboratories, fine arts facilities, a gym, chapel and additional athletic amenities in the future.

Cristo Rey is part of a national network of 32 schools and was the first Catholic high school to open in Lake County in 50 years with a starting enrollment of 95 students in 2004. It exclusively serves families with limited financial resources.

The school was previously located in leased space at the former St. Joseph Parish complex, a small two-acre property comprised of less than 30,000 square feet on Waukegan's south side.

"This is a milestone moment for us," said Preston Kendall, the school's president.