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Neighbors mourn ‘senseless destruction’ of former Saint Andrew’s

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Twin Cities German Immersion school to demolish church for three-story addition

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
“This is a day we hoped would never come,” stated Tom Goldstein during a rally on the steps of the former St. Andrew’s Church on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
While the group fighting to save the landmark from destruction received a temporary restraining order to block demolition from Ramsey County District Court Judge Jennifer L. Frisch on July 15, she also ordered the grassroots neighborhood group to come up with a $1.9 million bond by Monday, July 22 to compensate property owner Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) for what it says would be its damages associated with a construction delay.
The public charter school intends to erect a $7.4 million building on the site of the former church and its parking lot to accommodate additional students. Friends of Warrendale/Save Historic Saint Andrews (SHSA) argued that the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act prevents the destruction of historical resources.
A ruling on July 23 from the Minnesota Court of Appeals left the district court order standing.
SHSA was not able to raise the bond money – which preservationists termed “insurmountable” – and the city issued a demolition permit.
In protest, about 100 historic preservation supporters gathered on a Sunday afternoon outside the 92-year-old Romanesque building designed by the city’s first architect, Charles A. Hausler. Many of those there were former members at the church which was closed in 2011 and sold to TCGIS in 2013.
“I got involved because I think it’s a tragedy for elected officials to take so little interest in preserving history,” said Goldstein.
He added, “We have demonstrated that this church can be re-purposed.”
The school originally bought bonds of $8.5 million to renovate the buildings on site, including the former church sanctuary which it calls the AULA, and still owes most of the funds.

Demolition being funded by taxpayer money
“Demolition of St. Andrew’s will reverberate through the Como Warrendale community for many years to come,” observed preservationists in a statement released by SHSA, which has nominated the building for the National Historic Register. “The school’s claim that wiping out the heritage of the Italian and Hungarian immigrants who built this iconic church building is necessary for young children to immerse themselves in German language and culture will fall on deaf ears as the rancor caused by this unnecessary destruction lingers. That’s often the result of a tragic outcome that is completely avoidable.”
If it proceeds, the school “will be making the choice to wound this community that will never heal,” said Ward 7 Council member Jane Prince, who sidestepped tradition to speak out on an issue outside her district.
She expressed her hope that “sensible minds” would prevail.
Prince honored the city’s great preservationists who “helped us to be different than Minneapolis in this way,” and observed that the city’s historic structures help tell stories of St. Paul.
“The teardown of this building is happening with our property tax dollars,” said Prince.
She shared her belief that the historic Saint Andrew’s Church building could be reused.
Prince recalled how citizens stood in the way of a wrecking ball and saved the Landmark Center in 1972.
City Council President and Ward 5 resident Amy Brendmoen, who lives a few blocks from the school, has supported the TCGIS plan and spoke against historic designation in favor of what she views as a property rights issue.
The K-8 charter school intends to build a new 24,000-square-foot addition with classrooms, a gymnasium, cafeteria and individualized instruction rooms in the footprint of the former church structure. Plans are that it be completed for the 2020-2021 school year.
TCGIS obtained a demolition permit in early August from the city and expected the building tear-down to begin after Aug. 5. The city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) gave preliminary approval for up to $9 million in conduit revenue bonds that the school will use to fund the building replacement project, with a final vote scheduled for Aug. 14.
The school held a hastily planned open house on July 28 that was attended by about 100 people to say farewell to the building.
Meanwhile, protesters organized outside with signs that read, “Demolition does not heal a community.”
The next week, SHSA organized a protest at the Governor’s mansion on Aug. 3 and a candlelight vigil at St. Andrew’s on Aug. 4.
Father John Forliti has lived across the street for his entire life, and his dad moved to the neighborhood at age 14.
He doesn’t know what he’ll do when the demolition crew shows up.
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay in that house and watch it go,” Forliti said.

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