Charter high schools in Minneapolis are often tucked away in modest locations, missing all the amenities that come with larger school district high schools.
Things will be different at the $27.3 million Hiawatha Collegiate High School campus that opens next fall.
There, students will be greeted by a gymnasium with the school mascot name splashed behind rows of seating. They’ll file into what Hiawatha calls a state-of-the-art lecture hall, and classrooms and science labs. And when the end-of-day bell rings, their own regulation high school soccer field will be waiting right outside the doors.
“This is a manifestation of the dream that you all have been helping us pursue for a long time getting a lot closer,” said Eli Kramer, executive director of the Hiawatha Academies chain of schools, speaking at a celebration at the site Wednesday.
Other charter high schools in the city include some of the features Hiawatha Collegiate is advertising, said Minnesota Association of Charter Schools executive director Eugene Piccolo. But he said there likely isn’t another Minneapolis charter high school with all these amenities.
“The goal, I assume, is that if they have a brand-new facility with all the bells and whistles, that they will increase enrollment, which would expand their ability to do the programming,” Piccolo said.
Hiawatha Collegiate, at 3500 E. 28th St. in the Longfellow neighborhood, used to be home to a Canada Dry bottling plant, among other things. The building will be sandwiched between Brackett Park and a pair of schools in the Minneapolis district, symbolizing the already tense competition for students in that area of the city.
The four schools that make up Hiawatha Academies bring in kids from kindergarten through 11th grade, and its first class of seniors will graduate in 2019. Hiawatha is one of the city’s largest charter schools, serving mostly Latino students.
At the Wednesday ceremony, the school’s chief operating officer Sean Elder thanked project partners, which include Sunrise Banks and Propel Nonprofits.
“That partnership has allowed us to have a building that is truly equitable for what our scholars and our families deserve,” he said.
Other amenities at the new building include a food court, auditorium, locker rooms, weight room and dance space. Renderings show that school spirit for the Wolves, Hiawatha Collegiate’s mascot, will be plastered around the school.
It will be a “so much more than a building,” said Hiawatha Collegiate Principal Nicole Cooley, as construction barreled on behind her.
Hiawatha officials aim to almost double the high school population, from 400 to almost 800 students over the next four years, according to a news release. With those five schools, it aims to nearly double last year’s enrollment to 2,240 students by fall 2025, its strategic plan said.
Hiawatha Academies will open its second middle school in the fall in the building that now houses its high school students.
Other charter schools in the metro area are seeing a building boom, notably Hmong College Prep Academy and Community School of Excellence, both in St. Paul.
Enrollment growth in charter schools comes as schools in the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts are seeing increasing declines in their student populations. One in three school-aged kids in Minneapolis is picking a charter school or other school district, a recent Star Tribune analysis found.
Hiawatha’s long list of partners is posted on its website and includes banks and a charter school facilities group.
Hiawatha Collegiate junior Uly Duval said he’s looking forward to the new space, which will include a “real lunchroom” and classrooms with natural lighting.
Duval will be in the building for only a year, he said, “and I will make the most of every second. I owe that to myself.”