Cuningham Group, in partnership with DSGW Architects, broke ground August 5 on a new, 280,000-square-foot high school in Virginia, Minnesota, that incorporates community and nature into the larger educational experience.
Rock Ridge High School, which will combine students from the communities of Virginia, Eveleth, and Gilbert, is a product of extensive community engagement, including student workshops and community engagement sessions. The event, along with the groundbreaking for the new Eveleth Gilbert Elementary on May 29, marks the second phase in transforming the combined district in the Iron Range.
“From the beginning, the intentional design of Rock Ridge was to create a collaborative and adaptable educational environment that will continually meet the needs of an ever-changing workforce,” said Cuningham Group Project Designer Scott Krenner. “Learning spaces inspire exploration and problem solving and empowers students to drive individual learning paths.”
The new school is organized around several multi-story, Next Century learning neighborhoods. These learning neighborhoods are flexible, adaptive, and student-focused to invite collaboration in a myriad of ways.
The new school also supports cross-disciplinary learning through a variety of innovative spaces, such as a three-story commons that serves as a multi-modal hub for a variety of flexible learning environments, and a media commons that uses collaborative spaces, technology, and creative resources to break down the scale of a typical media center. Additionally, a separate innovation commons linked between two neighborhoods provides space for project-based learning, career technical education (CTE), and the arts. Other features include: a performing arts center, four gyms, a community pool, and a robust set of CTE labs that are supported through partnerships with the community and local businesses.
Designers made sure to incorporate the natural beauty of these geological elements into the new high school’s design. “The design of Rock Ridge is inspired by the surrounding white pine forests, diverse wetlands and exposed rock ledges,” Krenner said. “We worked with the brick supplier to customize a masonry blend that reflected the color and texture of the rock outcroppings and wrapped the courtyard side of the learning neighborhoods with weathered steel, connecting to the rich history of the Iron Range.”
Large, feature windows frame views of the surrounding landscape, flood the space with daylight, and provide students myriad opportunities to learn and play in all four seasons. The area’s unique landscape and industrial past are also expressed in the school’s building materials, which reference the local manufacturing tradition and roots Rock Ridge High School in the surrounding natural context with a warm, inviting palette.
The new school is also intentionally designed with the capacity to evolve as the learning needs of students change with time. Construction is expected to be completed in Spring 2023.