Gas explosion looms large on first day of school for Minnehaha Academy students

Students at Minnehaha Academy’s Upper School headed back to school Tuesday at their new home in Mendota Heights, Minnesota after an explosion destroyed part of their campus in Minneapolis last month. 

Classes are being held on the former site of Brown College, located in an industrial park about six miles south of Minnehaha Academy’s Minneapolis campus. The site will serve as the school’s temporary home for the foreseeable future.

The natural gas explosion on Aug. 2 killed two staff members and injured nine other people. Part of the school was destroyed in the blast. A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board said the explosion was likely related to construction that was going on in the building at the time.

“It’s going to be really different here now,” Amalia Fields, a freshman said on Monday. “Different building, fun, but kind of weird.”

Following the accident, administrators scrambled to find a new site to start classes on time. Crews spent the past three weeks renovating the former Brown College building, bringing in new furniture, computers, supplies and even school logos.

On Monday night, there was a special building dedication service highlighting the efforts to get the building ready for students.

“I’m holding back the tears of excitement,” Donna Harris, the president of Minnehaha Academy, said. “[I] know it’s only been eight days of lost class time. It’s just thrilling, eight days later.” 

Minnehaha Academy seniors led a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new campus ahead of the opening bell on Tuesday.

“The biggest adjustment is just getting to know the space,” said Zack Shuster, a senior. “Even seniors don’t know where any classrooms are. It’s all brand new.”

On one wall is the school’s motto, “Together We Rise.” On another is a school map to help even the most veteran faculty members understand the classroom layout.

“Figuring those things out is normal for any first day, but to do it at a new location I think adds to the excitement, I wouldn’t say confusion, but typical first day of school,” Minnehaha Academy Principal Jason Wenschlag said.

Wenschlag pointed out there are some big differences in the new building. The chapel and cafeteria now share one oversized space – the chapelteria. There are no lockers, no school bells and no actual clocks, not yet anyways.

But, what you will find in abundance is lots of love and appreciation and Dairy Queen Dilly Bars -- a tribute to John Carlson, the school’s beloved custodian who was known for handing out the ice cream treat before he was killed in last month’s blast.

Students at the school may be attending class at the Mendota Heights location for the next two school years since the investigation into last month’s explosion is still ongoing and repairs to the building have not even started.