More freedom. A campus that feels more like college than high school. A chance to hang out exclusively with fellow seniors. Fewer students in the parking lot and halls.

Burnsville High School students have much to say about the Senior Campus, a separate building for 12th-graders 2 miles from the regular high school.

The campus, formerly a mall, was meant as a temporary solution for the district in the late-1990s when the high school was overcrowded. Over time, the campus became an institution, an appreciated part of the high school experience for many students.

“Senior campus was a rite of passage,” said Michelle Stage, a senior at Burnsville High School. “The freedom is really nice here, and I think a lot of people are going to miss that freedom.”

But after the 2015-16 school year, the Senior Campus will close, thanks to the approval of a referendum that will fund an Burnsville High School addition. After construction, the high school will accommodate everyone, grades nine through 12.

While the change inspires wistfulness in some community members, others say the closure will be a good thing, allowing all of the students, teachers and classes to finally be in one place.

“I think it’s hard to let it go just because it’s been in the Burnsville community for so long,” said senior Marissa Harrison.

Principal Dave Helke said another goal of the Senior Campus was to provide a “unique experience” for seniors, with freedoms that are similar to being at college.

One special privilege is that students with study halls and a 3.0 GPA can leave class to work at the Campus Cup, an on-site coffee shop.

“It’s interesting because I think that the idea behind a separate campus … is solid, and it’s a good one,” he said. However, “this is the time to move to a one-campus solution.”

Space for one grade

Burnsville-Eagan-Savage isn’t the only district to consider segregating one class at a separate site as a way to deal with high enrollment numbers and crowding.

Ninth-grade centers are still a concept districts discuss as a way to transition students from middle school to high school.

The Shakopee district debated creating one, and the Eastern Carver County district had its Pioneer Ridge Freshman Center from 2002 through 2008. In White Bear Lake, the high school is divided between two buildings, with freshmen and sophomores in one place and juniors and seniors in another.

Shakopee has a building just for sixth-graders called the Pearson 6th Grade Center. Many parents and students have become fans of the concept, which allows all district sixth-graders to meet each other and prepare for junior high, according to Shakopee school officials.

But in Burnsville, only 50 percent of seniors are at the Senior Campus at any one time. The arrangement means seniors may not see half of their class for the entire year because they are in different places.

“I actually am [one of] the only seniors who is here all day, so I really like it,” Abby Ulrich said. “I get to see my whole class, and I don’t have to deal with the 10th-graders.”

Schedule strain

Ulrich’s unusual situation is due to a scheduling snafu, a reason some students will be happy to see the arrangement phase out.

“I really don’t like the senior campus,” Louie Chelle Villamor said. “I definitely think it is a strain.”

She rides a bus back and forth because she doesn’t have a car and had to choose between enrolling in advanced classes or choir because they are held on different campuses, she said.

“Those are those frustrating moments” of being split between two sites, Helke said.

Like Helke, teacher Katie Burke said she can see pros and cons of the Senior Campus. But she’s eager to have everyone together.

“I’m actually really excited about it because I think it’s going to strengthen our programs once we are a 9-12 building,” she said.

Now, academic departments are “fractured” between two places, and none of the Senior Campus teachers have met the seniors before they arrive in the fall, she added.

Villamor said the same issues exist with students.

“As a junior, I didn’t even know seniors really existed,” Villamor said. “It’s more common to be friends with people that are older than you [at other schools].”

Several seniors said the Senior Campus’ closing will be an interesting change — but one that they won’t be at Burnsville High School to witness.

“I kind of wish I was at school [next year] so I could see it go down,” said Stage.