Kraus-Anderson Wraps Build on Minnesota Academy

By Eric Althoff

VIRGINIA, Minn.—Construction manager Kraus-Anderson’s Duluth office has successfully delivered the new Rock Ridge Career Academy High School for the Rock Ridge Public Schools. The $190 million project, which commenced construction in August 2020, also entailed demolition of prior buildings that stood on the site in the town of Virginia, Minn.

The physical Rock Ridge Academy itself, which cost $122 million, encompasses 280,000 square feet of educational space designed to help students train for potential future careers. The school is partnering with local businesses and other organizations to expose students to career options, and programs offered onsite include business management, health and human services, agriculture, engineering, and sciences.

Kraus-Anderson worked with designers Cuningham Group Architecture and local designer DSGW Architects to maximize the amount of natural light for the school’s interior. The design aesthetic features an open main commons, laboratories, as well as rooms for courses in carpentry, automotive, nursing and culinary arts. The school also features a modern gymnasium, pool and performing arts center. Local timber was used in the construction.

Outdoors, the academy will host five athletic fields and a new stadium featuring a press box, grandstands and a running track.

In a recent phone conversation, Kraus-Anderson project manager Paul Noll said that due to the 30-month construction timeline, his firm had to not only deal with covid-19 protocols, but also issues with the supply chain.

“We made all sorts of extra storage room available…to accept delivery of materials earlier than we typically would during a construction process to allow for those months and months and months of delays that other projects were experiencing,” Noll said. “That’s not something we would typically do on a project, but it worked fantastically on this job.”

Taking this path allowed KA to complete the construction of the academy on schedule. And being flexible was crucial at the jobsite as the team awaited certain materials to show up.

Rock Ridge Academy is the only school north of the Twin Cities devoted specifically to career training. Noll calls such an educational model “revolutionary” in this far northern area of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Furthermore, it will be important to have an educated technical workforce on hand in the area, rather than having them flee to the big cities.

“The region is very community-focused and family-focused, and there are a lot of different opportunities that the career academy highlights that show students there are many different pathways they can take forward in their life that will lead to success,” said Noll.

At a recent celebration for the academy’s opening, Dr. Noel Schmidt, superintendent of Rock Ridge Public Schools, echoed what Noll said about the need to keep talented people within the community.

“Rock Ridge High School…was specifically designed for both direct instruction and project-based learning to flourish as teaching and learning tools in a career academy structure for all students,” Schmidt said. “It is no hyperbole to say that the community, teachers, and students can be proud of this extraordinary high school which will be the envy of many districts throughout the State of Minnesota and United States. It is that unique.”