In the 16 years Southwest Christian High School has been in existence, students have attended classes in the basement of two churches, a community center, and most recently, the former Nordic Track factory in Chaska.

Physical education classes sometimes took place in a parking lot while a refurbished janitor's closet once doubled for a temporary classroom. And things like air-conditioning and heating have been sketchy at best in some of the school's past incarnations.

But all the hardships endured by Southwest Christian's band of nomadic students, teachers and administrators are about to be erased by the Sept. 4 opening of the school's new campus, which will feature many of the modern amenities the other buildings lacked.

For example, it will have state-of-the-art science labs, a large, multi-purpose commons area, a media center with Wi-Fi and a gymnasium capable of holding more than 500 people.

"From a building sense, we've got more space to grow and the opportunity to add more programs that will really enhance the education we're able to provide," said Dan Beckering, head of school. "In that regard, life will be dramatically different."

The new campus, which sits on a former piece of farmland just south of Hwy. 212 on Bavaria Road, was part of the founders' original vision for a private Christian high school. But fundraising took time, as did finding a suitable piece of property in the west metro area. Then the recession hit, forcing school leaders to bide their time even longer.

Today, about 190 students are enrolled in the school, which will have the capacity to house more than double that amount. Administrators expect enrollment to increase, acknowledging that some families might have been slightly put off by the school's former facilities.

"No doubt those facilities did shape some first impressions, but I've always been willing to put our students and teachers up against anyone in terms of the quality of education we offer here," Beckering said.

In the school's 16-year history, it has produced two National Merit Scholars, nine National Merit semifinalists, and eight National Merit Commended Students. In 2010, Southwest Christian's debut FIRST Robotics team won the Rookie All-Star Award at its regional competition, earning a spot at the national championship.

English teacher Barb Hoklin said she expects the new school to be even more conducive to learning. Temporary facilities had thin walls and sometimes the temperature inside the classrooms was uncomfortable.

"It was wonderful before because of the kids," Hoklin said as she picked carpet fuzz balls from the floor of a new office. "But here, you just get more of a sense that this is a real school."

On a recent weekend, several students volunteered to help move the school from its old location inside a Chaska industrial park to the new location. They packed and unpacked boxes and swept up construction debris, all while mapping out the new school.

"I feel like God has really blessed us with this new school, and I'm really excited to be here my senior year," said Kaela Venberg, the senior class president.

Both Andy Meek and Jordan Lubben surveyed the new gym and soccer fields -- two amenities the school has never had. In the past, the soccer team played home games at a community recreation center in Victoria it shared with other schools; practices were in Excelsior. The basketball team had to play at Crown College in St. Bonifacius.

"We've always managed to make it work," Meek said. "But this will be a huge change for us."

Students say it will be a change for the better. They believe school spirit will soar now that they can actually host bona-fide home games.

Still, Beckering insists the school's merits really lie within the students, teachers and parents -- not the modern new facility that houses them.

"Our founders always said it's not the box, it's what's inside the box that makes it important," Beckering said. "Still, this is a pretty nice box."

Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469