St. Joseph tears down O'Connor house to build Pozzi Center
Mr. Tom's stately home is now in shambles.
A bulldozer has begun taking down the O'Connor house - owned for years by Tom O'Connor and donated to St. Joseph High School about 15 years ago.
O'Connor "was one of those gentlemen who walked tall, who was a tremendous benefactor to greater Victoria community, well respected and admired throughout the Victoria community," Bill McArdle Jr., school principal/president, said.
Now, the family of the man everyone called 'Mr. Tom' has given STJ their blessing to tear down the home in order to propel the school into the future, McArdle said.
The property across from the school on DeLeon Street will soon be The David Pozzi Center.
Named after the longtime educator who graduated from the school 50 years ago, the new building will house fine arts programs. Band and choir will enjoy new acoustics, recording and storage spaces, and art students will have new work areas and a kiln. The theater department will also have space for rehearsals and set design, while journalism and yearbook students will enjoy a new publishing center.
"As this comes down, there's a lot of rich history with the O'Connor family. They've been staunch supporters of the school for years," said Robby Burdge, who along with his wife, Tami, has championed fundraising. "We appreciate the St. Joseph family coming together. This is going to impact kids for a long time to come."
The school has raised $4.3 million of the $6.5 million it needs to complete the center.
McArdle said alumni from as far back as the class of 1946 have donated to the cause.
The neighborhood surrounding the school has even been in on the action. Dawn Neel, who lives across the street from where bulldozers were tearing down walls, said school officials called a few neighborhood meetings to discuss their plans.
Though she doesn't have children who go to St. Joseph, Neel said the school has been friendly over the past five years she's lived near it, and she's looking forward to their next step.
"We're excited to see what's coming," she said.
Mike Petrisky, the school's choir director, has more of a stake in the center. He said he appreciated being consulted on what facilities would be best for the school's choir students.
"It will be such a benefit ... for us as instructors to be able to provide those things that our current building kind of restricts us from doing," Petrisky said. "Our students are going to really have a classy place."
The O'Connor family donated the house to the school 15 years ago. Since then, it's been used as a meeting space, storage and theater rehearsals, McArdle said.
The vision for a new and improved fine arts space came about six or seven years ago, said Robert Kovar, chairman of the school's board of directors.
The Pozzi Center has been a long time coming, but Kovar said the future of St. Joseph High School is just getting started.
"To me, this is not an ending, but a beginning," Kovar said. "This will allow (students) to achieve a higher level of success."