A Minneapolis charter school that was destroyed during the civil unrest in May will reopen for the new school year inside Mall of America.
Minnesota Transitions Charter School suffered major damage in the riots following the death of George Floyd. School Superintendent Brian Erlandson said crowds shattered windows, looted school materials and tried to set the building on fire 19 times. The sprinkler system helped save the school from being burned to the ground but resulted in three inches of flooding and mold issues.
“That was really devastating because it was like, what are we going to do? Where are we going to find a home for over 150 kids?” Erlandson said.
Shortly after the riots, school leaders received a call from Mall of America’s communications team, offering to donate a 17,000-square-foot space at the mall for in-person learning.
“We’ve literally gone from just tragedy to renewed hope,” Erlandson said.
The space is located behind a wall of the Culinary on North food space, on the third floor near various fast food restaurants. The area was part of the mall’s new construction from a recent expansion and had previously been rented out as a venue for private events or warehouse space for nonprofit organizations.
“We have special secrets throughout Mall of America,” said Jill Renslow, Mall of America’s executive vice president of business development. “That’s one of the benefits of having 5.5 million square feet. We always keep our minds open to what’s possible. This is a time when all of us need to step up and do the right thing.”
Renslow said several other community partners also stepped up to help make the space functional for students. IKEA donated most of the furnishings, including tables, chairs, rugs and decor. TCF Bank is also supplying the school’s technology needs, providing tablets, computers and smartboards.
About 150 seventh- through 12th-graders will begin school there in October.
The industrial-looking environment will feature flexible classrooms separated by curtains.
“That way, you can make a classroom bigger or smaller. You can open up the space to make it more airy,” explained Secondary Principal Shawn Fondow. “We do believe in kinesthetic learning and moving around.”
Fondow said this experience is giving the school a chance to reimagine education. They are creating spaces for stretching, music, art, JROTC and “dynamic learning.”
“We really see the possibilities as limitless,” Erlandson said. “It’s different. It’s innovative. Think about offering education in an environment that’s more like a coffee shop or a college campus.”
Renslow said there may also be internship opportunities for students with retailers and learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
“Partnerships with our tenants, looking at creative curriculum these kids can engage in,” Renslow explained. “Everything from learning about aquatics at Sea Life or looking at physics at Nickelodeon Universe.”
“The idea of having a school in the Mall of America, it’s just incredible,” Fondow added. “Everything is open to your imagination.”
The school plans to rebuild in its original south Minneapolis location starting in September. They anticipate using the Mall of America site throughout this school year and potentially as a secondary site for the future.
“It’s a silver lining in it, from that tragedy to now going there’s hope and the opportunity to thrive again,” Erlandson said. “There’s beauty that came out of that and I’m hoping that’s a broader message for society.”
The space will open on Sept. 8 for staff and some students who need more one-on-one education. It will open to all students in October.