As workers busily added final touches to the Southwest Christian High School addition, wide-eyed students soaked it all in.
Parents and students stopped by for a sneak peak of the school’s new space, at 1981 Bavaria Road, Chaska, over Christmas break. They started classes in the addition on Monday. This week, 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, the public is invited to tour the school.
The $16 million addition, in the works since July 2017, doubles the size of the original school, which now totals over 120,000 square feet.
“I think it’s absolutely beautiful,” said sophomore Anika Stone, who was perched on a bench, next to a window overlooking a new outdoor atrium.
“There’s been months and months of preparation put into building it,” Stone said. “I think the students are really going to appreciate that and will enjoy spending time together as a community in here.”
It’s a long ways from the space that alumni affectionately call “The Warehouse,” at 103 Peavey Road in Chaska.
The school moved from that industrial building to its current home on Sept. 4, 2012. Head of School Dan Beckering has been with the school since The Warehouse days.
“I’m still trying to convince myself that this is going to go from being a construction project to our actual home,” he said. “Seeing students in the lobby, and so on, really starts to make that feel like more of a reality.”
Beckering was a basketball coach at the old location, which lacked a gym. In those days, the teams practiced at the Chaska Community Center and held home games at Crown College.
With the recent expansion, Beckering is especially happy about the additional room for the arts.
The new auditorium seats 790, and will provide a place for the school’s productions and worship. The school held its first all-school assembly in the auditorium on Jan. 7.
In the past, students needed to use the Chaska Community Center auditorium for its larger productions. The “Sound of Music” in April will be the first musical staged at the new auditorium.
The Grace Church Chaska Campus, which rents space from Southwest Christian, moved its services from the school gymnasium into the auditorium for the first time Jan. 6. It also rents office space from the school. Grace offices and the school have separate entrances, Beckering noted.
The band now has its own practice room, apart from the room it shared with the growing choir. The expanded space will “give a different message” to a prospective student interested in music, Beckering said.
The expansion will also give the school some breathing room as it grows from its current 358 students to a projected 500 students, “which is as big as we want to get,” Beckering said.
“That for us is maybe what you’d call the tipping point, where we no longer can function as that intimate small community that is so important to us,” he said.
Before the expansion, the school was bursting at the seams.
“We ran out of lockers this year and had seniors volunteer to share so that freshmen could have their own. Many teachers have been without their own classroom, as well as staff members (including myself) sharing offices,” said Emily Robertson, Southwest Christian Marketing and Communications manager.
“We have had groups meet in the booster store and storage closets for the past two years because of lack of meeting space,” Robertson said.
“We were using every bit of our space each period of the day,” Beckering said.
Besides classrooms, the school has added professional technology and science labs, a new counselors wing, and a large lobby area for students to gather.
In fact, the school has expanded beyond its current needs. There are four instructional spaces that will remain unfinished until needed.
STAYING THE SAME
“This is a time of tremendous change,” Beckering said.
“We’re going from 64,000 to 120,000 square feet, so huge changes in that sense. And there are so many awesome things that I think are going to come with that, including enrollment growth and program growth,” he said.
“But the best things about Southwest are staying the same. The vision of the school isn’t changing. The relationships that the teachers and students have are not changing. The great traditions we have … that stuff is staying the same,” he said.
“We’re excited about the new building. That’s great. It’s a huge investment in the decades to come. But the stuff that we care most deeply about are the things we cared about when we were in the warehouse off of 103 Peavey.”