Principal Sara Collins of St. Agatha School in Southeast Portland is excited that her students have a new school to call home, but she's also excited that the faculty bathroom will now have a sink in it.

'We used to have to walk across the hallway to wash our hands in the faculty kitchen sink,' said Collins. 'This is really one of the school's most exciting improvements,' said Collins with a snicker.

More than 400 St. Agatha parishioners, along with Archbishop John Vlazny and Benedictine Abbot Nathan Zodrow of Mount Angel Abbey, last Sunday packed the church for a dedication Mass, then processed across the street to the new St. Agatha school, where Archbishop Vlazny cut the ribbon and officially blessed the school's halls with holy water. After the school was blessed, an open house was held, with teachers available in every classroom for discussion. Refreshments were served across the street in the parish hall.

The old building, dedicated in July of 1911, by Archbishop Alexander Christie, was rendered out of building code by the city of Portland, and was to be renovated or torn down. The community chose to tear down and rebuild, gathering $3.5 million in pledges since collecting in 1996. The school cost $4 million to build.

Construction began last September, and there are still several things yet to be finished including the school's gymnasium, which should be finished by the end of June.

The children began classes in the new building in January. The old school, originally Benedictine-run, was leveled about one week after the move.

Collins, who came on board two years ago after serving as principal at St. Anthony's in Tigard, is excited about the parish's new school.

'The new school provides us with a safe, and updated learning environment,' said Collins. 'The kids are already benefiting from the generosity of this community.'

'A lot of times parishes, if they lose their schools, begin to dwindle,' said Father Steuernol, pastor of St. Agatha. 'This parish community's commitment to the school is a testament to this parish's strong faith life. There's a lot of positive energy now in the parish.'

The school has classrooms for all grades, preschool through eighth. The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms located on the top floor are connected by doors at the back of the classrooms.

'The connected classrooms maintain our sense of a middle school feel, and give our team-taught lessons more continuity,' said Lisa Brown, seventh grade teacher.

When phase two of the building is complete, a gymnasium, kitchen, all-purpose room, parking lot (which will also serve as a playground space), will be available. A new flagpole was recently installed.

Having a kitchen will also mean students will have access to hot lunch, a first at St. Agatha's.

Lucky for the kids, parishioner Lisa Quinn, who owns the much talked about Ivy House restaurant with her husband Brian in Sellwood, will be in charge of the hot lunch program. Raspberry vinaigrette dressing with your corn dog, anyone?

The school also has a new computer lab (which will soon go wireless), and thanks to a grant from Comcast, the school will soon be connected to the Internet.

There is a room called the SMART room, (science, music and art), and a tutoring-parent volunteer room.

'Our music teacher, who is also our physical education teacher, used to pull out a rug and a piano in between gym classes to teach music,' said Collins. 'Now she can use the SMART room to teach music.'

The new school will also promote the success of other parishioner supported programs. The school will offer a summer camp for St. Agatha students, whose parents work during school hours in the summer. The hours of the camp are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

'One of the most effective tools we have for evangelization has been our Catholic schools,' said Archbishop Vlazny in his homily. 'And we hope the lives we form in our schools will be effective lives of evangelization.'

A time capsule was dug up during the demolition of the original school. New materials were placed in the original time capsule box and placed in the cornerstone of the school to be opened in 2103.

Jacqueline Pisani Bennett, former Catholic Charities Elizabeth House director, now a clinical psychologist at Samaritan Counseling Center attended the dedication. She was a graduate of St. Agatha School in 1964. Her father graduated from the school in 1932. She bumped into Linda Jentoft, who graduated with her older sister in 1961.

'It's so comforting to see the history and legacy of St. Agatha's carry on,' said Pisani Bennett, also a parishioner at St. Agatha. 'This is a wonderful faith community and there are many people who have made it that throughout the generations.'