After explosion, Minnehaha Academy ready to re-open doors

Two years after an explosion ripped through Minnehaha Academy, killing two employees and leaving a significant part of the campus in ruins, repairs are finished and the building is ready for the new school year.

School leaders say, so far, the reconstruction has come in on time and on budget. The $50 million fundraising campaign allowed for school officials to exceed some of their own expectations.

Turning tragedy into opportunity, the new space within Minnehaha Academy’s upper campus has an emphasis on letting in natural light, many modern multi-use classrooms, staff workspaces, and seating -- plus a new college-style cafeteria.

"I think, more than anything, it really provided us an opportunity to think another 100 years out and build a space that is adaptable and flexible and takes advantage of the environment around us," says academy president Dr. Donna Harris.

After a natural gas explosion rocked the building on Aug. 2, 2017, the school lost approximately 50,000 square feet of its campus and has now rebuilt 75,000 square feet.

Dr. Harris remembers that day often. "I think you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t think about it."

But, after two years, she is thrilled to finally welcome students back to the original campus. "We walk with a different lift in our step, and we celebrate a lot," she said.

Two benches and future stained glass installations pay tribute to the two staff members killed in the explosion: Receptionist Ruth Berg and janitor John Carlson. Other nods to the past include incorporating brick from the original 1913 structure. "It was a pretty awesome responsibility to walk through the building and be asked, ‘What do you want to save?’ The first thing that came to mind was the senior lockers."

As staff prepares, it’s evident the explosion changed the school and several lives, but the healing has come a long way.