Virginia, Minnesota

Rock Ridge High School

A next generation learning environment unites communities on Minnesota's Iron Range

In 2020, the northern Minnesota communities of Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert recognized a shared desire to elevate education quality for future generations and took the bold step to consolidate into the new Rock Ridge School District.

Through extensive collaboration with the client and working with partner firm DSGW, Cuningham’s design for Rock Ridge High School advances the District’s founding mission by creating a progressive learning environment that emphasizes 21st-century skills like collaboration and critical thinking, aims for a global education benchmark, and introduces career-oriented pathways. The project is one of three new Cuningham-designed schools for the District.

At the center of school life, a multi-story Innovation Commons connects all three building levels, establishing an open, cohesive atmosphere. Modular walls and furniture in next generation learning neighborhoods promote collaboration, while state-of-the-art career and technical education (CTE) labs provide hands-on experience in a variety of trades and industries.

Cuningham’s design also accommodates the District’s robust community partnerships. Ongoing investments from local industries and businesses support not only the school’s comprehensive educational opportunities, but also three gyms, a community pool, and a performing arts center with a Broadway-standard stage and fly loft.

Client: Eveleth-Gilbert Public Schools

Market: Education

Size: 290,000 Square Feet

Scope: New Construction

Services: Architecture, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Master Planning

Delivery Method: Construction Manager as Adviser

Key Project Contacts:

The school’s entrance visually reflects the region’s geological faults and folds, while a customized masonry blend mimics the color and texture of the surrounding rock outcroppings. An expansive glass exterior wrapped with weathered steel brings daylight deep into the space, unifying the school’s indoor and outdoor environments.

The integration of indoor and outdoor spaces goes beyond aesthetics by promoting sustainability and functionality. Large, salvaged boulders within planting areas encourage infiltration of snow melt, while smaller rocks are repurposed throughout the site as a crushed base for parking lots and walking paths. In the learning courtyard, a swale collects rainwater from the roof, bringing it down throughout the site.

Charged with creating the most energy-efficient building that the District could afford, Cuningham maximized a limited budget by implementing a super-tight, high-performing building envelope, which reduced mechanical system sizes and equipment. By offsetting costs in this way, not only is Rock Ridge High School high-efficiency, but it is also cost effective to operate, easy to maintain, and creates a comfortable environment for learning.