For most of the 13 years that Natalie Rodriguez attended Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove, she heard about plans to build a wellness center for physical education classes and sporting events.
There were surveys and brain storming sessions to come up with ideas for a center that everybody would like.
As Natalie, now a senior, got older she wasn't sure she'd ever see the gym that everyone talked about.
“I started to think it wasn't going to happen,” said the 17-year-old who started in the private Catholic school at 3747 Main Hwy. when she was 4.
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But on Monday Natalie served as an altar server in a Mass to dedicate the 30,000 square-foot Fernandez Argiz Wellness Center that will now serve the school’s more than 700 girls from 3 to 18.
Led by Archbishop of Miami Thomas G. Wenski, the Thanksgiving service included the school’s choir and an official cutting of the blue and gold ribbon.
“I’m glad I’ll get to use it for a few months before I graduate,” she said.
The idea of having a wellness center is 50 years in the making, said headmistress Suzanne Cooke.
“Schools always dream about having a teaching facility and a place for all of the athletes,” she said. “But it’s not easy.”
In 1998, a planning session included the gym. Getting the $7 million to fund the project took time, Cooke said. The Fernandez and Argiz families stepped up to help both in “generosity and vision,” Cooke said.
“It was a way for my family to give back to the school that gave me so much,” said Michelle Fernandez, who graduated in 2009 and is now in law school.
The gymnasium was named after P. Nelson Rodriguez, who oversaw the process by working with the contractor and the school.
About 20 months ago, construction began on part of a grassy field that was used for physcical education classes. Students said they used to play sports outside on the field and if it rained they would cramp into a building. Schoolwide events were difficult because there wasn’t a room big enough for everyone.
“I think it is going to be great for the school,” said seventh-grader Gabi Garity, 12. “We’ve all been looking forward to it.”
The new building has a room with gym equipment, a gymnastic studio, a training room, an indoor track, and room for volleyball and basketball games. Cooke said the school partners with three local community organizations to help children, including the Honey Shine mentoring program, the Barnyward in Coconut Grove and Breakthrough Miami.
“This will benefit the entire community,” she said.
For volleyball and basketball player Daniela Rabassa, 12, having a place to host home games is exciting.
“Before we weren’t even able to have our own home games at home,” she said. “We would have to go somewhere else.”
On Monday, the wooden floor was covered with a thin carpet covering the giant cyclone — the school’s symbol. Bleachers were set up for the chorus and Wenski stood in the front to bless the building.
Wenski said the wellness center is “welcome addition,” to a school that serves so many children.
“It’s important for me to support the sisters and trustees,” he said. “This a beautiful building that will serve as a platform for future success.”