Monday, May 2, 2011

The Old Northfield Middle School

The 1934 addition and the future cinema
My employer, Carleton College, purchased the former Northfield Middle School some years ago. We're currently redeveloping the site as the Weitz Center for Creativity and will begin the 2011-12 academic year in September with a marvelous new game changer in higher education. This complex was the place where our children spent four years of their lives. Coincidentally, it's also the place where I spent one year of my life, back when it was the Northfield High School and contained grades 7-12. I was a 7th grader.

Together Everyone Achieves More--2003
Some months ago, when the project was just beginning to take shape, I was lucky enough to be part of an escorted tour and I took a few pictures for the record. In its later years, the building was tired and in need of serious renovation, but the occupants were full of energy. I'm not sure why, but students were allowed to put graffiti on a number of interior areas. Perhaps the administration thought that it couldn't get any worse from an aesthetic perspective. At any rate, the students held forth.

The Auditorium becomes the Cinema
The complex was constructed in three phases: the original 1910 Northfield High School, the 1934 auditorium addition, and the 1954 gymnasium, cafeteria, and sciences expansion. Carleton has demolished the 1954 classroom building, but retained the shell of everything else. The former gymnasium will become the theater, the former auditorium will become the cinema, and the former 1910 building will be the home of the Cinema and Media Studies department, the Presentation, Events, and Production Support, and several  desparately needed meeting spaces.

With Malice Toward None
This enterprise started out with a $100 million price tag and would have been sizeably larger than what we'll produce if we'd been able to raise the required funds. We knew we'd fall short so we scaled it back. Now it's got a $45 million sticker and will be a much more realistic size.

I wonder if  future Carleton students will have any sense of the generations of young people that preceded them through the halls of this building. Much is made these days of the presence of spirits and ghosts in institutional settings where turmoil occurred. My good friend, Greg Kneser, the Dean of Students at St. Olaf College,  regularly regales his students with the stories of the campus in earlier days. Former residents with afflictions continue to try to insert themselves in the present day.

The World Needs Helping Hands--2003
The  future dance studio
The Weitz Center for Creativity appears to be on-schedule for its September 2011 opening. Personally speaking, I know where I'm going to be spending the month of August, but that's a story for another blog. We're going to end up with a new theater, dance studio, art gallery, cinema, video and film studio, multiple classrooms and meeting spaces, and a commons that could potentially be a new social center for the campus. I know it's a worn-out phrase, but it's true: time will tell.


  1. Great job Dan! Do you happen to have your full photo gallery you too online somewhere?

    Tim Freeland

  2. Great post, Dan. I've been wondering about the status of the project. It will be an exciting addition to the campus, and the community.