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Debate on St. Andrew’s Church continues; City Council to decide fate

Posted on 10 December 2018 by Calvin

The Twin Cities German Immersion School is planning to tear down the former St. Andrew’s Church building and construct a new three-story structure with two gymnasiums, a cafeteria and classroom space. This drawing shows the south view from Oxford St. The plan is to use precast concrete panels with red brick inlay, while the metal panels above are the same color and pattern as the 2013 addition. The glazed blue brick between the cafeteria and the 2013 addition is intended to be a backdrop for an art installation. It could showcase work from either known public artists or from TCGIS students. (Photo provided)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Should the former St. Andrew’s Church building designed by St. Paul’s first city architect be saved or razed for a new school building?

The discussion has continued at some local meetings, including a St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission hearing and St. Paul Planning Commission meeting.

On Nov. 5, 2018, the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission determined that the former church building meets four of the possible seven criteria for preservation and voted 8-1 to forward the nomination to the St. Paul Planning Commission and Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office for review. (See related article on page 7)

Later that month, on Nov. 28, city staff recommended that the Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committee recommend that the former church be preserved as a heritage preservation site, citing that the application conforms to the city’s comprehensive plan and policies.

However, some members of the committee disagreed, saying it was “their responsibility to take a broader look at whether other principles and policies in the comprehensive plan justify opposing historic designation. They also said commissioners should consider comprehensive plan topics such as education, neighborhood vitality and character, and the potential for designation leading to a different use, a vacant building, or other unintended outcomes.”(1)

On Nov. 30, the Planning Commission members put off making a recommendation and sent the issue back to the Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committee to review the range of potential impacts heritage designation could have.

The committee revisited the issue on Dec. 12; the Planning Commission revisited the issue on Dec. 14 (both were after Monitor’s press date).

Save Historic Saint Andrew’s filed an extensive data practices request on Nov. 29, asking the school to provide details on expansion alternatives it considered that would relocate the school, otherwise not demolish the former church building, and reasons it is not pursuing those alternatives. The request also seeks a wide range of information on costs, decision-making, and communication.

At the request of the city, the school is conducting a study of traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian activity near the school.

Detailed and unique building
The imposing former church building that is about 70 feet by 107 feet is well known for its three towers. It cost about $150,000 to build circa 1927 and had a seating capacity of 810. The complex building features various bays, wings, towers, and roof forms. Resting on a raised basement, the building is clad in brown brick, in several dark tones, and trimmed with Bedford limestone.

The elaborate brickwork features various patterns including Flemish, American, running, basket weave, and herringbone bonds, as well as extensive brick corbelling. A broad intersecting-gable roof, with multi-colored ceramic tiles, covers the main body of the church. The building achieves a highly-polychromatic effect through the use of dark brick, light stone, and multi-colored tiles.

Photo left: St. Andrew’s design is unique in many ways, including the use of dark brick, light stone, and multi-colored tiles that contribute to a highly polychromatic effect. Larry Millett, local architectural historian, noted in the AIA Guide to the Architecture of the Twin Cities that St. Andrew’s Church is, “One of St. Paul’s best period revival churches” and “by virtue of the quality of design and its beautiful detailing, [it] certainly deserves a high rank.” (Photo provided)

The historic exterior integrity of St. Andrew’s Church is ranked good to very good.

Is a win-win possible?
TCGIS Board Secretary and Past Chair Kelly G. Laudon stated that the school will continue to challenge the historic designation and seek approval for its plan to build a new, purpose-built structure that will serve the needs of its students.

“TCGIS claims that the building can’t be reused, in spite of deep evidence to the contrary,” said nearby resident Bob Spaulding. “Churches across St. Paul are being used today for homes, schools, and non-profits.” He added, “There is a win-win possible, but all parties need to step up. This community is ready, but we’re still waiting for TCGIS.”

SHSA will next work with qualified architects to perform a design charette, an intensive design exploration which stakeholders work together and map out and find solutions. TCGIS has been invited to participate.

District 10 Committee approves variances
During a two-and-a-half hour-long meeting on Wed., Dec. 5, the District 10 Land Use Committee voted to approve three variances that the Twin Cities German Immersion School is seeking for its expansion.

There were over 200 people at the meeting. The committee recommended:
• One percent variance in lot coverage on a 100-74 vote. This will allow the school to increase its footprint to 36 percent of its property.
• 3-foot, 1-inch height variance on a 96-76 vote. This would allow the school addition to reach 33 feet, 1 inch. (The former St. Andrew’s Church is 47 feet at the peak of its roof, according to St. Paul staff report.)
• 37-space parking variance on a 101-76 vote. “The school’s site plan accounts for only 50 of the 87 off-street parking spaces that are required by code. The school anticipates 26 spaces in the existing west parking lot, 15 spaces that will be leased from Mission Orthodox Presbyterian Church across the street, and 9 spaces that will be offset by additional bicycle parking. The 37 spaces that are unaccounted for likely would be absorbed by street parking in the surrounding residential blocks, or by staff taking alternate forms of transportation.” (1)

These recommendations now go on Dec. 18 to the full District 10 board, which can accept, reject, or modify the recommendations. The board will forward its recommendations to the St. Paul Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee on Dec. 20. That committee’s recommendations go to the full Planning Commission on Dec. 28.

(1) This information is taken from the official website of District 10 Como Community Council.

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