Minnesota Interdistrict Downtown School

Built atop a city-owned, underground parking ramp, with neighbors that include an historic theater, a university, a church and a photo production house, the $14.2 million, state-funded Interdistrict Downtown School (IDDS) on busy Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis is an urban context school for the 21st century.

Rather than isolating students from the surrounding environment, this multi-cultural, magnet K-12 school-which opened Sept. 1, 1999-makes the most of its location, fully integrating educational programs, as well as architecture, with the downtown neighborhood.

Designed for a maximum of 600 students, the five-story, 102,500-sq.-ft. IDDS building is the result of a collaborative effort of Cuningham Group architects and nine school districts which compose the West Metro Education Program: Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Edina, Hopkins, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St. Anthony-New Brighton and St. Louis Park. The project was funded through a State Grant, a private, Catholic university and the Minneapolis Community Development Authority.

IDDS draws on its neighbors as resources, utilizing them as "external labs," and anticipates that older students will spend as much as 50% of their time at these off-site "labs." (This first year in operation the school serves only grades K-9, but grades 10-12 will be added, one each year, through 2002.) The school program includes instructional houses for six multi-age student groups of 100 learners each on the upper levels, and shared Whole School and Community-Use Space on the street level. The Whole School Spaces and the Instructional Houses provide environments for students to "learn while doing," with flexible groupings for different teaching and learning styles.

Partnerships have been formed with the University of St. Thomas, MacPhail Center for the Arts, Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis Downtown Library, Hennepin County Government Center, Downtown YMCA, Loring Park, the historic Orpheum Theatre and numerous downtown Minneapolis businesses.

Blending as a "storefront" into its neighborhood, the IDDS building is constructed of red brick, grey zinc panels and ochre-colored pre-cast concrete that echo the materials of other downtown buildings.

Partnering between the school and the downtown business, government and arts communities makes this a unique urban school for the state of Minnesota and the nation. Typical specialized areas such as athletic facilities and performance spaces were not built; by partnering with nearby facilities, such as the YMCA and other business and community facilities, students will be part of the urban fabric. In addition, the design team worked with educators to provide a building that would be used as a teaching tool, by exposing building systems. Plumbing, electrical, sprinkler, mechanical, voice and data systems are all within view and incorporated into the curriculum.