Owen Lehman was one of a handful of educational pioneers who in 1944 founded Johnstown Christian School.
School officials on Friday dug shovels into the dirt in Hollsopple signaling Phase 1 of a $1.4 million renovation project.
Teachers and students on the last day of school gathered for the outdoor ceremony to pray and blow soap bubbles as offerings to heaven.
At age 100, Lehman, too, was there.
“I’m so grateful for men like Owen who heard the call of the Lord to start a school like Johnstown Christian School,” said Kathy Keafer, school administrator. “And he’s here now to celebrate with us. To me that is the greatest treasure of all.”
Phase 1 is an addition to the school located on Soap Hollow Road west of Tire Hill in Conemaugh Township.
It will be dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The school has raised more than $800,000 toward the project, officials said.
The addition is expected to be completed in time for the next school year, with students moving in by Jan. 1.
“The new science labs will improve training and help the students prepare for college,” said John Huston, school board president. “We’re just excited about the opportunity to grow.”
Jeremy Pyles, a 17-year-old junior, was one of several students who gave their thoughts on the building project.
“This new building is a dream come true,” he said. “It will be a blessing to everyone here.
“The impact it will have will be absolutely immeasurable,” he said.
Lehman, who was part of the first board of directors, said several families gathered 70 years ago to consider the state of Christ-centered education in the area.
“We had several men come in from different areas to speak about Christian education,” he said. “A number of families got together and decided to have a school.”
Lehman said he had no inclination the school would prosper as well as it has.
“With the Lord’s leading is why it has,” he said. “We felt a need for Christian education and through prayer and the leading of the Lord we got it underway.”
The school today has 247 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“The founders had a vision and it has grown to what we have now,” Huston said. “We pray that the vision continues to grow.”
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on twitter.com/PatBuchnowskiTD.