River Grove moves to Zephyr Theater


Photo by Ian Parham

The Zephyr Theater was purchased by the Manitou fund. It now serves as the temporary home of River Grove, who are working out solutions to fit their classes into the new space.

Ian Parham, Layout Editor

River Grove is a school focusing uniquely on nature, now being made to leave it. The school has found a new home in the Zephyr Theater after being unable to renew its lease with Wilder Forest.

Wilder Forest sold the land that River Grove was using to the Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership, which intends to construct a summer camp and winter retreat on the property. This move has been the subject of much controversy among locals.

River Grove learned in fall, 2022, that plans were underway for Wilder to sell the property. In April, River Grove realized that the proposed lease extension would not be financially viable.

“It really wasn’t going to work for the school,” said Ele Anderson, operations and communications coordinator at River Grove. “That’s when we made the decision to move to the Zephyr building … it is probably the best temporary solution.”

Space constraints and a projected class size of eight students forced River Grove to drop the sixth-grade class for the following year.

“It was very difficult because sixth grade is kind of a hallmark of River Grove as a way to allow kids to finish out elementary years still in an elementary school setting. Some parents really feel strongly about that. But we just couldn’t make it work with only eight students,” Anderson said.

River Grove has been meeting with architects from MSR Design to come up with flexible plans to accommodate their classes. Outside of school hours, the Zephyr Theater will use the space for its productions.

We looked at pretty much every facility in the area that might possibly house the school and the Zephyr was the the best solution for the next probably two years

— Ele Anderson

“The building is bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. It’s actually got two floors and they’re coming up with some really sleek designs that are a design that will enable us to fit,” Anderson said.

Some students at the school are upset about the move, feeling that it is losing what makes it special.

“It’s going to lose a lot of things, like, it’s gonna lose the nature,” fourth grader Alistair Vigness said.

The Zephyr already teaches the school’s performance and art education in addition to producing the school’s annual play. River Grove and the Zephyr intend to continue this partnership in the coming school year.

Anderson said that being in the same building as the Zephyr might cause their partnership to naturally grow.

River Grove was formerly located in Wilder Forest, adjacent to Square Lake. Residents and activists have expressed concern over planned developments’ impact on the quality of the surrounding watershed.

Biology teacher Andrew Weaver is on the watershed board of the area this development is proposed, “They’ve been nothing but welcoming of opinions [from the watershed board] and that kind of stuff. So we’ll see how that goes. It can be wildly political.” He said.

MYCP has made promises to keep its development within the footprint of existing buildings. It also established several environmental campaigns, such as buck-thorn removal.

“They’ve promised that they’re going to not hold a drain field where all that waste travels towards the lake. They also promised that there’s not gonna be any buildings built right near the lake as well. They’re gonna leave a big, long, continuous buffer,” Weaver said.

After a year of uncertainty, River Grove has a plan for the future. What happens to its former location is now to be seen.