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Rocked By Tragedy, Minnehaha Academy Rebuilt And Set To Reopen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Two years after a devastating gas explosion, students will soon return to a rebuilt Minnehaha Academy.

It was a day none who were there will ever forget. The stately school along West River Parkway was decimated by a power natural gas explosion and in shambles. The blast left two adored staffers dead and nine others injured. From tragedy, however, comes a new beginning.

Rebuilding Minnehaha Academy was possible thanks to the architectural work of the Cunningham Group. Mortenson Builders maintained the project under budget and delivered it on time. Now, just 400 days after construction began, Minnehaha Academy is ready for returning students.

"We wanted a space that recognizes how teachers best teach and students can best learn, and this space creates that for students," said Dr. Donna Harris, president of the school.

On Aug. 2, 2017, a natural gas explosion which occurred during the relocation of a gas meter leveled the central portion of the century-old campus. The blast killed custodian John Carlson and receptionist Ruth Berg. Nine other staff members were injured.

Wood benches on the ground floor of the new building now memorialize both Carlson and Berg. Stained glass windows will be installed near the benches. Another tribute is on the steel beams in the glass atrium. It's where hundreds of alumni and current students have left their signatures.

"More than anything, it provided us an opportunity to think 100 years out and build a space that's adaptable, flexible and takes advantage of the environment around us," Principal Jason Wenschlag said.

So they redesigned the school using 21st-century styling. There are more open spaces for student and faculty collaboration. Also, classrooms were designed in a way to be multi-functional and serve multiple disciplines.

But with the new are tributes to the past. Salvaged bricks from the 1922 structure hang in artistic tribute along a guest sitting area wall. Near two olive trees in the atrium, original stone stair treads have been repurposed into floor tiles.

"These lockers were reclaimed from the rubble," explains Nick Tofteland, development director.

Modern touches include bird-safe glass along the expansive windows. Outside, students and visitors will be greeted with copper cladding along the rooflines and entry portals. These touches provide a classy feel to this place of learning, rebuilt with earthy warmth.

Students will return Wednesday, Aug. 21.


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