Elizabeth Huber is right at home inside what will become St. Nicholas Academy, a new boarding school for local underprivileged children.
Her feeling of being at home is partly because a lot of her old home is being used to furnish the school, but many other members of the community are also contributing their time and resources to make a former day care space into a more permanent family abode Huber hopes children can take pride in.
Huber, founder of St. Nicholas, has donated items including cabinets and bathroom fixtures that used to be in her home before it was renovated last year. "I tried to save everything I could," she said.
She gave an impromptu tour Friday afternoon of the site of St. Nicholas on Edgewood Drive — a building that is being leased to her from Capital Region Medical Center for $1 a year.
"I think colors have emotional impact. I want this to be happy," she said in the building's main room as painters did their work.
"The St. Nicholas Academy is dedicated to providing its students with a safe and supportive environment in which to live and learn. The St. Nicholas Academy respects the needs and personal integrity of all students, and aims to provide an environment that enables each student to develop physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and socially," according to the school's website, stnick.org.
The finished boarding school where students will live year-round will include a large playroom, study area, full main kitchen, dining area and laundry room on the lower level, and bedrooms, a kitchenette, computer lab and office on the main floor.
Huber hopes to also pour concrete outside for a basketball court.
The Jefferson City Council approved plans for St. Nicholas Academy in November. Renovations started in April, and there's still a lot of work left to do.
"We had to move some walls around, and we're replacing all the flooring, all the lighting. The building's not a spring chicken," Huber said, adding a sprinkler system and new appliances will also be installed.
She used Ameren rebates to replace the lighting.
She added she still aims to have all the renovations done by mid-August, and while she knows that's an aggressive timeline, "that's what I'm going to keep saying" to keep everyone involved motivated.
A workshop full of volunteers have come forward to help.
Huber said her general contractor, Jude Markway, is doing his work for free, as is engineer Fred Malicoat and designer Tina Davis. Ryan Wilbers has offered to do the stonework to install a decorative fireplace for free, using donated masonry from Midwest Block and Brick.
Scruggs Lumber has donated flooring. Hentges Tree Service has offered to do the first $2,000 worth of work for free.
Capital City Productions' cast of "Newsies" donated proceeds from the show that's in its second of three weekends this month.
Volunteers from Mission JC came on a Sunday to do yardwork and cleaning, and students from Helias Catholic High School are scheduled to come remove some old railroad ties serving as a retaining wall near the old playground area.
Huber said her own children went to daycare at the site, tucked behind Huber and Associates, where Huber is CEO and other volunteers have come from to help. But soon, the building will be the home for up to 12 children who will eventually range from preschool to high school age.
The children will attend St. Peter Interparish School for their education, and Huber envisions the older students could attend Helias.
At the boarding school, up to four children will be assigned to each of three bedrooms. Each bedroom will have two bunk beds, a full bathroom and each child will have his or her own closet.
The house parents whose paid job it will be to provide guidance, support and discipline to the children will live year-round in the building with the children — in a master bedroom with a master walk-through bathroom that's attached to a spare bedroom for family and guests, a family room and a deck.
"Relief parents" will have accommodations similar to a hotel suite.
Huber said St. Nicholas director Sister Susan Renner of the School Sisters of Notre Dame is working on documentation and policy, particularly for the positions of the two house parents, and so the boarding school has not yet advertised or had interviews for those positions.
The boarding school will start taking applications for children once the house parents — a married couple — have been hired.
St. Nicholas will serve children from Jefferson City and Cole County, and parents who apply for their children to live at the school will need to prove economic need.
The children's parents will have contact with their children through phone calls, email and visits.
Huber said she's basing St. Nicholas off the model of the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
"Supervision, supervision, supervision," she said of the way to raise successful children.
"We anticipate accepting up to three students for the first school year in the fall of 2018," according to St. Nicholas's website.
Huber has said she has enough money to get St. Nicholas going and operate it for a couple years, and after that, she anticipated the school's marketable success will draw more funding connections from the community.
More information — including on how to donate to St. Nicholas — is available on the school's website.