Neighbors expressed their anger Wednesday night as Minnehaha Academy presented its plan to rebuild its high school campus, which was heavily damaged in a deadly gas explosion last August.
School officials, along with representatives of the architectural firm and construction company that will build the slick, Scandinavian-inspired “learning community,” held a community meeting and open house at the school’s elementary and middle-school campus.
Neighbor Elizabeth Hinz said the design is “way out of scale with the neighborhood” and other school buildings. Many complained that neighbors were not consulted about the plans.
The school and its architect touted a design that “reflects the future while respecting the past” to a crowd of about 100. Phase One includes two three-story buildings angled toward each other at the front of the school’s property at 3100 W. River Pkwy. The new buildings, with a brick base and light, concrete-reinforced fiberboard walls, feature modular interior walls and large windows. Tennis courts sit alongside the 51-foot tall structures.
Heidi Neumueller, of Cuningham Group architects, said the mission was to blend the old and the new.
The goal, Minnehaha Academy president Donna Harris said, is to get the students in grades 9-12 out of their temporary accommodations in Mendota Heights and back to the campus by fall 2019. Construction is scheduled to start this summer.
The explosion on Aug. 2 collapsed the oldest part of the campus and killed receptionist Ruth Berg, 47, and janitor John F. Carlson, 82. Nine others were injured.
Where the two buildings were demolished, the design plan calls for a grassy courtyard and memorial garden.
“This tragedy has created an opportunity to re-imagine our school,” Harris said. “This is unprecedented in the 105-year history of our school. The complexities are just immense.
But some vocal neighbors were angry that they were not consulted about the planning, the project or the resulting outcome.
“We have had some missteps,” she said in response. “Please accept my apologies.”
Carol Becker said she has lived across the street from the school since 1993. The city of Minneapolis, which has “parking maximums” has decreed that the parking lot must shrink by 50 cars. That will push students’, parents’ and staff members’ cars onto residential streets.
Becker said she needs parking space; she has health problems of her own and takes care of her elderly father. “The city has all these nice young planners who are physically fit ... who say, ‘if we make it hard for people to park, they’re all going to walk or bike,’ ” she said.
Steven Truax said that he has lived in the neighborhood for 36 years and that traffic on 32nd Street has been a problem for years. At certain times of day, it is almost impossible to get onto W. River Parkway. With a smaller parking lot and rerouted buses and school vans, it’s only going to get worse, Truax said.
“You’re not addressing issues that are vital to our neighborhood and you didn’t get input from the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s hazardous.”
Becker agreed. “It isn’t your regular traffic problem,” she said. “It’s people who drive like they just got their license. Because they just got their license. Sixteen-year-old boys.”
Some were concerned that mature trees would have to be cut down and that the large windows could be a hazard for birds.
One woman urged the builders to use “bird-friendly glass.”
Neumueller said while about 20 trees will have to go, more than 46 will be planted in their place.
The project is scheduled to go before the Minneapolis Planning Commission on April 23.
But Harris said that could be postponed. She said she is committed to working with a representative group from the neighborhood to get input over the coming days and weeks. That group would then communicate with the larger group.
The school never intended to keep the neighborhood out of the process, she said, adding it was“just the reality of all of the complexity.”