Minnehaha Academy unveils plans for rebuild after explosion

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Renderings for the new Upper School campus at Minnehaha Academy. Photo courtesy of Minnehaha Academy. 

Officials at Minnehaha Academy unveiled plans Friday for an ambitious rebuild of three buildings on the Upper School campus after a natural gas explosion killed two employees last summer. 

The damage from the explosion forced the school to tear down two old buildings from 1913 and 1922, as well as the building that connected them, which is where the explosion originated. 

“It’s a complex process thinking about having to rebuild a school that was founded in 1913,” Minnehaha Academy President Dr. Donna Harris said. 

Two of the new buildings will face the river, stretching out over what is now a lawn, parking lots and tennis courts. The third building will be on the west side, where one of the original buildings that was destroyed in the explosion stood. 

The buildings will bring 100,000 feet of new space, nearly double what the school lost. All three will be essentially identical to allow the school the flexibility to decide how to use the space. The design reflects open and modern learning, not the classrooms and hallways of old. 

“Multi-use spaces, small, medium learning studios, flexible furniture [and] dynamic spaces where students can work on projects together,” Harris said. 

The demolition began in mid-December and is now mostly complete. The new buildings are designed to compliment the remaining buildings. While the design details could change some, the basic plan for the rebuild is set. 

The space where the blast happened, where Ruth Berg and John Carlson lost their lives, will be left open as a memorial garden. The exact design is still being worked on. 

“We’ve shared many ideas in the design process and haven’t quite landed on that, but we know it will be beautiful and we know it will draw people to that space,” Harris said. 

School officials are looking at June for the groundbreaking, but no date has been confirmed.