As West Lutheran High School celebrates 20 years in Plymouth, two-generation families like the Walbergs of Champlin, are thankful for the school’s growth and take pride in a building they can call their own.
As a 1990 West Lutheran High School graduate, Jennifer Walberg wanted her daughters to also experience the benefits of small classes in a faith-based environment.
Prior to land being purchased in Plymouth, West Lutheran students like Walberg attended classes in leased space at the Eisenhower Community Center, a former school in Hopkins.
“It was in one wing of one floor,” Walberg said. “Very small.”
During that time, Walberg was in a graduating class of 17 students – five boys and 12 girls.
“As a student at Eisenhower, we never really got to take ownership of the property,” she said. “But now that they’ve moved and have their own building, (students) can take ownership and have that pride, which I think has helped with the growth,” Walberg commented.
“It’s nice to see how God has blessed the growth of the high school in such a small amount of time,” she said.
Once affiliated with St. Croix Lutheran Church in St. Paul, students from 15 Wisconsin Synod churches in the area would travel the distance to attend the private school, explained West Lutheran Principal Adam Wiechmann.
Talks among the churches began in 1977 to establish another Lutheran high school in the Twin Cities area.
In September 1979, the official start of the school began in the basement of Cross Lutheran Church in Rockford, with six teachers and 12 students.
“We outgrew the church basement pretty quick,” Wiechmann said. The school then relocated to Central Junior High School in St. Louis Park in 1980 and then to Eisenhower Community Center three years later with an enrollment of 59 students.
A boost in enrollment in 1994 prompted serious discussion of finding a central location suitable for building a permanent school facility, Wiechmann explained. The school serving 15 churches, and now 20 churches, within a 50-mile radius, Plymouth became the desired location.
The 7.25 acres of land on Harbor Lane became available at a steep price of $750,000 value.
“We couldn’t possibly pay the price,” Wiechmann said. However, in an effort to sell the land, the property owners sold it for the bargain price of $200,000, donating the remaining value to the school.
This particular property also happened to be within a half-mile of the most central location along Highway 55 and Interstate 494.
“It was a miracle, we thought,” said Sharon Gieseke, a West Lutheran teacher of 38 years. Gieseke began teaching when the school was still in the Rockford church basement.
“They were blessings beyond what we could ask for,” she said.
The ground-breaking of the 25,000-square-foot school took place in April 1996 and the first day of classes was Dec. 9 with an enrollment of 107 students.
“It blossomed in numbers,” Gieseke said and credits the permanent facility. “It’s been a really great privilege to be a part of the growth,” she said.
“The building has been growing ever since,” Weichmann said, referring to a 14,000-square-foot expansion to the west in 2000 that included seven new classrooms, a fitness center, office space and restrooms.
In 2009, adjacent land was also purchased for a parking lot expansion.
Most recently, the school completed a redesign project of the commons area last summer.
Being the only private school in the area at one point, West Lutheran saw its highest enrollment in 2004 with around 240 students, close to the building’s capacity.
The recession and competition from area parochial schools reduced those numbers, but the school has since seen an upswing in enrollment, Wiechmann noted.
This year, enrollment sits at 140 students, with students coming as far away at Belle Plaine.
Today, while the graduating classes of Walberg’s daughters Miranda, a senior, and Alyssa, a junior, have doubled, they continue to provide the one-on-one attention she valued.
“Because of the size, they are able to participate in just about any activity they want to, from sports to extracurricular (activities),” Walberg said.
She also likes the close-knit environment that still exists today.
“It feels like family – everybody is there for everybody,” Walberg said.
Contact Kristen Miller at [email protected]