The Board of Trustees for the planned St. Michael Academy in Nolensville is making progress toward the start of construction.
“There were a lot of structural things we needed to get in place,” said Greg Sandfort, the president of the board of trustees. “Now that we have them in place, we can really move forward.”
In February 2020, the Diocese of Nashville bought a 166-acre horse farm on Nolensville Road as the site for a new parish and school. Mother Teresa Church has been established, with parishioners celebrating weekend Masses at Nolensville Elementary School.
Also planned for the site is St. Michael Academy, which will eventually be a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school.
“We have a growing, thriving Catholic community here in Middle Tennessee, and that’s a bit unusual as you look around the country,” said Sandfort, the retired chief executive officer of Tractor Supply Company and a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Brentwood.
“I’m not too sure there are many dioceses throughout the country looking to build new schools and new churches,” he said. “We’re fortunate here to have that opportunity.
“We have a growing Catholic community and we need to feed it,” Sandfort said. “The way to feed it is to build a church and school.”
The site will be developed in three phases, he explained.
The first phase will include construction of a school for grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Once the school building is complete, the parish will be able to use that facility for Masses.
The board, with the help of the Meitler consulting firm, is still trying to determine how many grades to have when the school opens. Findings from the Meitler Feasibility Report suggested the school open with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. The board will continue to evaluate those plans as well as growth in the area. The level of interest from families who want to send their children to St. Michael will also be a factor in determining how many grades to offer at the start, Sandfort said.
Once the school is open, additional grades will be added each year as it fills over time, he said.
Phase two will be the construction of a church for Mother Teresa Parish, which will be led by Pastor Father Anthony Stewart and parish council once the parish is better established, and phase three will include construction of the high school.
“We’re probably looking at a time frame of 10 years to build the project out, maybe longer,” Sandfort said. But the board hopes to have Williamson County’s approval for the phase one plans by the end of the year, so construction can begin next March.
Phase one will include preparing the site for the phases to come later. “So we don’t spend money twice, we’ll have some of the foundational things done first,” such as utilities and grading for roads and other buildings on the site, Sandfort said.
By the time phase one is complete, Sandfort said, “you’ll have a sense of where everything will be.”
“The most exciting thing for me is when we see the foundation being laid and things coming out of the ground,” Sandfort said. “That’s when people will get excited.”
As the board moves forward with the construction plans, it is also making plans for the school and the academic program that will be offered.
The goal, Sandfort said, is to “build a school that we can be proud of, that can have lasting value.”
“It will be one of the best grade schools out there in Williamson County,” Sandfort said. “I think it’s going to be something special.”
Much of the work on developing a vision for the project was already done by others before he joined the board earlier this year, Sandfort said. He and the rest of the board are working well together.
“I feel incredibly fortunate that we have a board of trustees who are willing to really help,” Sandfort said. “Everyone is contributing” and bringing fresh ideas to the discussion, he added.
Besides Sandfort, other board members include: Honorary Chair Michael Nacarato; Vice President Julie West; Secretary Rebecca Hammel, who is the diocesan Superintendent of Schools; Treasurer Bill Whalen, the Chief Financial Officer of the diocese; Ex-Officio member Brian Cooper, the Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer of the diocese; Father Joe McMahon, pastor of Holy Family Church; Father Anthony Stewart, pastor of Mother Teresa Church; Father Jerry Strange, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Thompson’s Station; Sister Mary Elizabeth, O.P., principal of St. Henry School; Betty Lou Burnett; Fran Bedard; Clay Teter; and George Sasser.
“I’m thrilled about the group that we have,” Sandfort said of the board members.
Sandfort asked for the community’s patience and support.
“It’s a large project and we need tremendous support from the Catholic community in Nashville to pull this off,” particularly financial support, Sandfort said.
“There’s going to have to be a little patience,” he said. “Everybody would like to have this up and running tomorrow, but that’s not possible.
“This is a journey,” he added. “It’s like running a marathon.”