Never take no for an answer.
The single greatest, most extraordinary happenings in St. Thomas’s treasured history have today concluded in dramatic fashion.
The goal of acquiring the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice that was started only two years ago – an idea that seemed
impossible, that some laughed at and others doubled – has now become a reality.
After two short years filled with successes, but also its fair share of speed bumps, this happening would be classified as nothing less than spectacular.
Today at 10 a.m., President Rev. Kevin Storey, CSB, signed the closing paperwork for all buildings at property at 4701 Dickson St., obtaining the title to the land and cementing St. Thomas as the owner of a newly-expanded 4500 Memorial footprint.
A miracle on Memorial Drive.
The bidding process was the first order of business in the saga. The frontrunners in the bidding war were St. Thomas and the private development group AV Dickson / ELK Mountain.
Here is where the first speed bump sat. It seemed that after two rounds of the bidding war, AV Dickson / ELK Mountain had won the property.
But after a mistake in the paperwork was identified by Al Clay ’61, the Board of Directors for Houston Independent School District decided to have a best and final bidding contest.
“We didn’t take no for an answer,” Clay said.
Shortly thereafter, a bid of $60 million was entered, kicking off the 4500Forever Capital Campaign.
The $60 million campaign is the largest in the history of the school, with the next highest being a now-overshadowed but still mighty $14 effort. It was a gut-check moment for the whole community.
“This was a time to look in the mirror and ask the questions, who are we and are we willing to the necessary work to get that goal? We looked around at each other and we answered the question”
-Father Kevin Storey, CSB
Members of the advancement office did all they could to spark and sustain community interest and participation in the project by showing the importance of Catholic education through the values of goodness, discipline and knowledge.
“The name of the campaign, 4500Forever, encapsulates so much, and this opportunity to acquire the land truly does ensure that we can be here forever,” Vice President for Advancement Mark deTranaltes ’83 said.
After 11 months of countless fundraising events, including the No Substitute for Victory Challenge lead by Bill Joplin ’54 who is responsible for a whopping $14.6 million, the campaign team found the December closing date looming on the horizon with a sizeable gap between funds raised and the $60 million mark.
Even with the magic of Joplin’s fire-starer gift, it still remained unanswered how we would edge closer to the full goal. That was until Clay, who has been involved in the entire land acquisition process from the beginning, stepped up to the plate. With a single $10 million homerun, Clay took the bull by the horns brought the total to just under $53M mere hours before Storey signed the final loan documents.
“I owe St. Thomas a debt, and I’m paying it back”
-Al Clay ’61
With $2.5 million already invested in the project, the idea of upping his donation to an astounding $10 million, was exactly that: astounding.
“$10 million is a crazy number, but when you think about it is as a ten-year payout of 750,000 a year, it seems more palpable,” Clay said of his gift. “This donation is a part of me. Without St. Thomas, it just wouldn’t be the same. You don’t get the leadership, religion and association anywhere like St. Thomas High School.”
In recognition of this unparalleled donation and commitment to the campaign, what in recent memory has been called the “main building” has now been given the name “Clay-Storey Hall.” One of the two original buildings on the 4500 site, for the first time since its construction in 1940, this historic landmark of gleaming limestone at the corner of Memorial and Shepherd finally has a name. Clay said it was a non-negotiable: his and Storey’s names go on the building, or no dice. “This means that together Fr. Storey and I did the deal,” Clay said. “It is that simple, [and] I wouldn’t have it any other way.” The conclusion to this epic is nothing less than miraculous.
“One word to describe this whole campaign would be historic,” Storey said. “To all the naysayers, I would say you don’t know St. Thomas. It has been who we are for more than a hundred years.”
The mission of school is now sure to be preserved for the next 114 generations in these hallowed halls.
“The subline of the campaign is ‘Addressing our Future,’ and that is exactly what we did,” deTranaltes said. “Although we are closing on the property, the job is not done.”
Closing on a property of this magnitude is not an easy process, especially given certain intricacies of its condition and previous ownership by HISD.
“What makes this very unique is that it is a five party transaction,” Vice President of Finance Eve Grubb said.
The five parties consist of St. Thomas, HISD, City of Houston Higher Education Finance Committee and the two lenders, Capital One and the Ed Rachal Foundation.
“We’ve been in the real estate business for twenty-five years here,” Clay said. “We’ve bought a lot of properties and sold a lot of properties, but this is most difficult and the craziest thing we’ve ever been involved in.”
Now at the end of the major fundraising process, the focus shifts to what will be done regarding takeover of the new campus.
“LECJ wants to move on, just as much as we want to get in there,” Storey said.
The two-to-five-year plan for the departure of LECJ students and staff is still in place. After two years if HISD still occupies the Jane and Bill Joplin Campus, HISD must start paying rent to St.
“What is next for St. Thomas is to look at some of the best practices, not only of schools in the Houston area, but within the nation,” Principal Rev. Patrick Fulton, CSB, said. “What are other schools that are comparable to us in the nation doing that could up our game in order to honor this gift that was given to us?”
Some of the other opportunities to come about from the addition to the campus would be a student center, an intramural program and expansion of electives. In addition, with this acquisition, the growth of the student body is expected to grow to 1,000 in the next ten years.
“The brother Basilian schools have well over 1,000 students and the culture they have there is very similar to what we have here,” Grubb said.
Needless to say, there is certainly a lot to be thankful for in this Christmas season, not the least of which has been generous benefactors who want to see us continue excellence without exception.
“When you have been given a great gift, you must use it well,” Fulton said. “Take care of others, and give back what you can.”