April 12, 2006 - Pusch Ridge Christian Academy in Oro Valley has begun a construction project that will allow the private school to increase its enrollment by more than 50 percent.

The school will be adding a "Student Fellowship Plaza" featuring a 300-seat amphitheater, 10 new classrooms, two science laboratories, and workrooms and conference rooms for teachers, said Judy Davidson, Pusch Ridge development director. Construction has already begun and is expected to be complete by January 2007.

"Our school is full - we have 470 kids, and we're almost at capacity. We needed to build to accommodate our growth, and with the new facility, we'll be able to accommodate 700 kids," Davidson said.

The $3.5 million construction project was paid for mostly through private donations from students' relatives and various supporters of Christian education, Davidson said. Although the grades 7 - 12 school is a ministry of the Catalina Foothills Church, financial support from that institution is much less than the total budget and funding for the project did not come from the church, Davidson said.

"Tuition isn't supporting (the construction project), and that money only goes toward operating costs. It has just been a lot of fundraising," Davidson said.

The new student plaza and other additions will grant Pusch Ridge more esteem within the Northwest community and impress potential students visiting the school, Davidson said.

"With nice facilities, people will say, 'Okay, they've arrived,'" Davidson said. "The more Pusch Ridge is able to add quality facilities and programs, the more attractive we are."

Davidson said the growth of Pusch Ridge shows that Christian education continues to be a popular alternative to public schools.

"We've grown because our school has partnered with the family, and we've created an environment that is honoring the Lord," Davidson said. "In everything we do, from teaching history to disciplining students, we integrate Godly principles. There's nothing going on in the world that isn't addressed in the Bible."

However, Christian education doesn't come cheap. High school students at Pusch Ridge pay $5,600 in tuition each year and middle school students pay $4,800 a year. While the school draws students from all over Tucson, most come from Northwest communities such as Oro Valley and Catalina Foothills, Davidson said.

The expansion also will have implications for sports programs at Pusch Ridge. Now competing at the 2A level, Pusch Ridge will eventually be able to compete at the 4A level as enrollment increases, said Lonnie Tvrdy, Pusch Ridge athletic director, assistant principal, and girls basketball coach.

"We'll stay at 2A for the next three years or so, and then go to 4A," Tvrdy said. "We'll be getting a lot more people coming in, including more star athletes. But you can't bring in 300 new freshman, so it will have to be gradual."

Competing at the 4A level has numerous advantages, Tvrdy said.

"Having to travel to other 2A schools in the region can take hours, and sometimes the competition is really bad. At the 4A level, there is a higher level of play, and you tend to get more press," Tvrdy said.

Tvrdy said Pusch Ridge has already attracted students simply because of the quality of their sports programs, particularly the state champion girls basketball team.

"Big schools don't necessarily lead to scholarships. It's more important to have a good reputation, and it's well known that we have a team that can compete," Tvrdy said.

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