Twin Cities Academy celebrates groundbreaking

A rendering of the new Twin Cities Academy building shows how the school will face west onto Birmingham Avenue near the intersection of Minnehaha Avenue. School officials are expecting the structure to be complete in July 2016. (submitted graphic)
A rendering of the new Twin Cities Academy building shows how the school will face west onto Birmingham Avenue near the intersection of Minnehaha Avenue. School officials are expecting the structure to be complete in July 2016. (submitted graphic)

Students at East Side charter middle and high school Twin Cities Academy have already begun the new school year, and a year from today the school will begin an altogether new chapter.

Construction is officially underway for the school’s new 61,000-square-foot, $15 million complex at the old Cemstone Site on Minnehaha Avenue and Hazelwood Street.

“We will finally have the facilities that a secondary program of our stature deserves,” Betsy Lueth, the school’s principal, wrote in a newsletter earlier this year.

The school will use donated Cemstone cement to build the new structure, which will earn Cemstone a continued legacy on the East Side, despite the company no longer running operations there — the school’s new athletic fields will be named after the company.

“We’re very thankful for Cemstone’s participation,” Lueth said, adding that they’ve been helpful sellers as Twin Cities Academy jumped through various hoops to make the new construction happen.

The school is also thankful for the athletic fields — the current space in Sacred Heart Church’s school building does not provide much space for athletics, with a small gym and no fields to speak of.

The high school’s varsity volleyball team’s volleys are often interrupted by the ball hitting the gym’s ceiling, and the current building has no locker rooms.

The new place, in contrast, will have a large gymnasium, plus three dedicated fields for softball, baseball and soccer. For now, school sports have mostly taken place at outside facilities, such as St. Paul city parks.

“It really is going to be remarkable for us,” said Ilse Larsen, the school’s athletics director. “We play officially, but we don’t have official facilities.”

Larsen said that over a third of the student body participates in athletics after school. The high school is part of the Minnesota State High School League, but has been unable to host traditional home games. For instance, the school’s homecoming games take place at four different sites this year.

In addition to sports accommodations, the building, which should be completed in July 2016, will also have a band room, a state-of-the-arts science room, an art room with a kiln, a library, special ed rooms, and small group classrooms in addition to its regular classrooms for middle and high school students.

With the expansion, the school should be able to accommodate a little over 600 students, which will make way for some kids who are currently stuck on waiting lists. The school has waiting lists for grades six through nine. Current enrollment is capped at about 515.

The public charter school has seen marked growth since the start of its middle school in 1999 and its high school in 2006.

Lueth said the Cemstone site could possibly provide opportunities for further expansion. But for now, she added, they’re just focused on getting the new building finished on time for next school year.

The construction project is funded through a municipal bond through St. Paul’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Meanwhile, with Twin Cities Academy leaving the Sacred Heart’s school building, the church is on the lookout for a new renter. The well-attended Catholic church has relied on the rental income from its school building to subsist as a parish.

Chris Fuhs, assistant administrator for the church, said they’d signed a lease with a real estate agent to market the place to prospective renters. Beyond that, they’ll just have to wait and see what kind of interest they see. Financially, the church can get by without a new tenant for a little while, but Fuhs said they’d of course prefer to have it rented.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

 

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