OST, Kan. – While many rural schools are struggling to survive as their student population declines, St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Ost, a far southeast Reno County community that barely qualifies as a wide spot in the road, is getting ready to build more classrooms to accommodate more students.

And that’s eight years after the Renwick School District gave the school up for dead and returned the property to the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.

On Tuesday, the Reno County Commission is expected to approve a special-use permit, one of the final steps before the school can begin construction of a freestanding addition that will have three classrooms, an office and a full-size gym, thanks to the time, talent and treasure of the supporters of St. Joseph’s.

Parishioners, parents and friends ranging from an excavator to plumbers, electricians, heating and air-conditioning technicians, brick masons and a concrete company, will donate their services to the project.

“A lot of people are giving their time and talent. That’s what’s awesome,” said Les Eck, the Wichita auto dealer who is making a major financial contribution to the project.

Eck and his three brothers and sisters graduated from the school, as did their father and his 10 brothers and sisters, among them Les’ uncle, Father Ivan Eck, pastor of the parish since 1995 and the driving force behind the project.

Father Eck said the Catholic Church founded a one-room school on the site in 1888. The existing two-story brick building was built in 1922. Years later, it became a county school and in the 1960s it was taken over by the Renwick School District, which also has grade schools in Andale, Colwich, St. Mark’s and Garden Plain.

However, Father Eck said, the rumor that Renwick was thinking of closing the school was already in the air when he became the pastor of St. Joseph’s 17 years ago.

It finally happened at the end of the 2003-04 school year, and the property reverted back to the Catholic Diocese of Wichita under the agreement in which the diocese sold the school to Renwick for $4,000.

“That’s when the local community, rather than be without a school, decided to start our own school since we already owned the building,” said Father Eck.

“They all came back together and decided to reopen the school,” said Les Eck, who now lives in Wichita, where he owns Rusty Eck Ford. “They did it with their time and talent and they didn’t ask for anything from anybody. They did it themselves. They are like that, and that’s what keeps it going. When you have people who give their time and talent, you know they’re going to do well.”

Although small and without the support of tax dollars or even tuition, the school stays open and thrives because it keeps its costs to a minimum with volunteer labor. Only the teachers and teacher’s aides are paid, said Principal Eva Harmon. Parents have a rotating schedule for cleaning bathrooms and classrooms. When something beyond regular maintenance comes along, they volunteer for that, too.

When the school reopened as a Catholic school for the 2004-05 school year, there were 83 students. On Wednesday, the first day of the 2012-13 school year, there were 103 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, plus 33 more preschool children, Harmon said.

Harmon said the school is doing well because God and religion are being forced out of the public realm.

“You’re either for or against Him,” she said. “Here we teach religion in everything. God is first.”