Minnehaha Academy expansion plans to get additional input from neighbors

Recently, a number of Minneapolis residents raised concerns about Minnehaha Academy's proposed expansion of their north campus along the Mississippi River.

The private school has been located along West River Road in Minneapolis for more than 100 years. After a 2017 explosion killed two people and destroyed some of their buildings, the academy is planning to replace and expand their high school.

The proposed building expansion would be 54 feet tall and bring the school building closer to the river. A 68-foot structure with a large cross on it has also been proposed for the center of the development.

Zoning for both the river corridor and the residential neighborhood requires that buildings not exceed 35 feet in height. Minnehaha Academy has applied for a conditional use permit to allow the added height.

The proposed building expansion would fill space now occupied by a parking lot and tennis courts. Plans call for a new parking lot to be constructed in the southeast-most corner of the property along the parkway and East 32nd Street.

However, city code requires that all development be set back from the property lines, so the school has to secure three variances for the new parking lot location.

The conditional use permits for height and setback variances will be the subject of a public hearing on the proposal, scheduled for the Minneapolis Planning Commission on Monday, April 23 at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Community concerns

FMR staff and advocates, along with dozens of neighborhood residents, had many concerns and questions about the expansion plan.

FMR pointed out that the visual impact of the new building will affect scenic views within the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park, especially for trail users on the west side of the river. The 68-foot cross would be the only visible structure above the treetops from the opposite bank, setting a bad precedent. 

Wendy Haan, co-founder of Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds, raised concerns about the large glass windows on the proposed new buildings and asked the school to consider "bird-friendly" glass to deter migratory birds from flying head first into the glass.

Increased traffic, bus idling, parking on neighborhood streets and loss of mature trees were also raised as livability concerns for residents who live nearby. 

Listening leaders

Although they seemed a bit taken aback at first, Minnehaha Academy's leaders listened to the concerns that were raised and acknowledged that in the wake of the tragedy, their focus was on engaging their own students, parents and staff in drawing up plans for the upper campus. 

By the end of the meeting, the school agreed to organize a task force of interested community stakeholders to discuss the concerns in more detail and try to find workable solutions.

The task force met the week after the meeting and will meet again before another public meeting Wednesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. at the Minnehaha Academy lower campus (4200 West River Parkway) to see and discuss revised plans.

If all goes well, the city planning commission public hearing on April 23 will not be delayed but will put forth a more universally popular proposal.

We'll be sure to update this page if things seem to pan out differently.

For more information or to find out how to get involved, contact Irene Jones at ijones@fmr.org.