New Minnehaha Academy poised to rise from ashes of gas explosion

Rebuilt Upper School campus will welcome students Aug. 21

The main entrance of the new Minnehaha Academy building.
Construction workers clean up outside the main entrance of the new Minnehaha Academy building on Thursday, a week before classes resume there. The school spent two years rebuilding after a natural gas explosion killed two staff members and heavily damaged the campus.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

A mix of innovation and tradition will greet students returning to Minnehaha Academy next week, two years after a natural gas explosion leveled part of the campus, killing two staffers and injuring nine other people.

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome our students and family and faculty and staff back home, here at the Upper School,” said school President Donna Harris, in a preview tour for reporters on Thursday afternoon. “We are just thrilled for those doors to open next week and our families to return.”

Minnehaha Academy president Donna Harris.
Minnehaha Academy president Donna Harris
Tim Nelson | MPR News

She was standing near the site of a massive natural gas explosion, sparked when workers attempted to replace a gas meter in the basement of the school’s original century-old building on West River Parkway, just south of Lake Street in Minneapolis.

The blast on Aug. 2, 2017 killed the school’s receptionist, 47-year-old Ruth Berg, and part-time janitor and alumnus John Carlson, 82.

They’ll both be remembered in the new construction — a lobby space near the entrance has two wooden benches with memorial plaques inset in the backrests.

“In a couple of months, we’ll also have a beautiful stained glass pieces, one that honors John and one that honors Ruth,” Harris said.

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Orange stone set into the floor of the new lobby at Minnehaha Academy .
This orange stone set into the floor of the new lobby at Minnehaha Academy is salvage stair treads pulled from the rubble of Minnehaha Academy's original century-old building, seen on Thursday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The building also has displays of brick salvaged from the rubble, as well as original stone stair treads set into a new common area floor, ready for the feet of generations more of Minnehaha Academy students.

But the new 75,000-square-foot building at the center of campus, set between the surviving gymnasium and fine arts wings of the school, also features ultra-modern amenities, like curtain glass outer walls — with fine black fritting to keep birds from striking the surface — modular office and classroom space, casual common areas and high-tech lab and audio visual fixtures.

The grounds feature additional parking, outdoor classroom space and a natural amphitheater space just out the school’s back door. The project was designed by the Cuningham Group architectural firm and built by Mortenson Construction.

The west entrance to the new Minnehaha Academy building.
The west entrance to the new Minnehaha Academy building is seen on Thursday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

School officials wouldn’t discuss the cost in detail, but said a $50 million capital campaign paid for the rebuild, part of a larger “Together We Rise” campaign.

The school is one of the Twin Cities’ most elite, a private Christian prep school affiliated with the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. High school tuition costs about $22,000 a year.

About 400 students are expected to make the transition from a temporary high school space in Mendota Heights to the new campus this year. School officials say they built the new building to accommodate as many as 600 students in the future.