ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When crews broke ground last August on Cathedral High School's first new building in half a century, no one anticipated the record-breaking rainfall or the rubble and ash that'd be discovered in the soil.

Most of all, no one could have predicted that a year later, the world would be enveloped in a pandemic.

"This new building is coming at the perfect time to be able to give Cathedral extra space. The whole idea of this building was to be able to have flexible space, more collaboration space, room to spread out," said Marit Ortega, director for the Campaign for Cathedral.

That is advantageous for learning. It's also advantageous for safety, especially if students are required to be 6 feet apart or rooms are required to be at 50% capacity.

"It is coming at the perfect time for us to really be able to do a good job with protecting (students) and following the guidelines that are being put in place by the Department of Education," Ortega told the St. Cloud Times.

The project, approved in Cathedral's master plan more than a decade ago, has space for science, engineering and visual arts classes; a commons area with a concessions area that will serve the north gym; and a chapel.

The building likely will not be open by the first day of school on Sept. 8. But teachers are prepared to move into the new space when it's completed.

"The idea was it would be a one-year build project and it looks like we'll be done and ready to move in in September," Ortega said.

School officials have informed parents of their intent to start school in-person — but that could change if cases spike in the area.

Catholic Community Schools, which includes Cathedral and eight parochial elementary schools, will follow similar guidelines as public schools, which are based on the 14-day case rate per 10,000 people in the county.

The first day of school at the elementary schools is Sept. 1. All schools are submitting reopening plans — with guidelines for in-person, hybrid and distance learning — to the bishop for approval, according to Ortega.

The budget for the project was $16.5 million. But the heavy rainfall and soil issues delayed the project and added costs. Last fall, crews unearthed belongings leftover from razed buildings and ash from when the Holy Angels Church was partially destroyed by fire in 1933.

Total project costs are now estimated at $17.8 million. As of Aug. 10, the campaign had raised $15.9 million.

"We did lose some pledges and then we gained some new ones so we're coming out little by little ahead," Ortega said. "But we do have a significant amount yet to raise."

The pandemic caused a few construction headaches, including the delay in receiving counter tops from a company in Michigan.

"Their plant got shut down so that pushed them back (some) weeks," said Chris Schellinger, director of advancement. "There's kind of a domino effect there especially if any of those products are part of the critical path.

"In other words, we can't do step eight, nine and 10 until we do step seven — and seven is delayed. We had several of those throughout the project," he continued. "It was often enough to cause a few delays and create the need to do some creative scheduling on the part of McGough (Construction)."

Crews were able to work through the governor's stay-at-home order in the spring, which helped them make up for some of the delays.

"By the end of October, we were seven weeks behind. Even through COVID, (McGough) has been able to claw back probably three to five of those weeks — so that's pretty impressive," Schellinger said.

Crews are now working on finishing touches such as installing elevators, putting up final coats of paint and installing light fixtures.

The building will connect the center building, built in 1938, and the north gymnasium, built in 1967. Until construction started, the area was a parking lot. Prior to that, it was the north building, which was built in 1914 and razed in 1989.

The new building gives students and staff something to look forward to during the odd back-to-school, Ortega said.

"It's a little bit of light in a gloomy year."