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TCGIS Board votes to tear down St. Andrew’s and build new

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Calvin

Save Historic Saint Andrew’s group intends to keep pushing for official historic designation to preserve the church

TCGIS parent Aaron Gjerde questioned whether growing larger fit with the school’s strategic mission. He supported operating a split campus at Central Lutheran to take more time on this issue. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

After considering another location, the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) Board has decided to raze the historic St. Andrew’s Church building and construct a new facility in its place to make room for additional students.

The decision was made at the July 30 school board meeting that was attended by over 100 people, some who expressed support for the school’s proposal and others who sought to save the local landmark.

“Our obligation as a board is to ensure our students receive a top rate education supported by our mission of ‘innovative education of the whole child through German immersion,’” said TCGIS Board

Chair Sam Walling. “To that end, our focus must be to do what is right for our students and staff. We empathize with the community and their longstanding ties to the former St Andrew’s church building. However, as a public school, we cannot forego our fiscal responsibility and fiduciary duty as stewards of the school.”

Photo right: This Byzantine-Romanesque structure built in 1927 was designed by well-known architect Charles Hausler. The church closed in 2010, and the TCGIS school moved there in 2013. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

In May, the board received a petition with 600 signatures asking that it wait on expansion until June 2020. While the board denied this request, it did decide to wait on a decision to investigate purchasing the Central Lutheran School (CLS)facility about a mile away at 775 Lexington Pkwy. N., and operating a split campus.

The school’s options of not doing anything, purchasing the CLS site, and replacing the former church building were discussed at the meeting before the 6-1 vote was taken to tear down the church and build new.

“Tonight’s decision was a vote to support the growing needs of our students and staff and to solidify our existing investment in our current campus on Como Ave.,” said TCGIS Facilities Committee Chair Nic Ludwig.

The proposed construction time line is June 2019 to January 2020.

SHSA disappointed but not done fighting
The neighborhood group fighting to save the 1927 church building wasn’t surprised by the board’s decision.

According to Bonnie Young­quist of Save Historic Saint Andrew’s (SHSA), TCGIS’s decision to demolish the former church was a disappointment, but not a complete surprise.

“SHSA supported the purchase of the Central Lutheran School,” stated Youngquist. “The idea of a split campus, even if temporary, was attractive to us because it preserves the former church, reduces impact at the Como site, and allows for the future growth of TCGIS. TCGIS voted to destroy something that remains in the hearts of many as something sacred, beautiful, imbued with deep history and shared meaning. We were profoundly disappointed that TCGIS was not willing to compromise to make the Central Lutheran School financially feasible.”

Photo right: Kevin Anderson spoke in favor of saving the historic St. Andrew’s Church during the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) board meeting on Mon., July 30. He is a member of the neighborhood group Save Historic Saint Andrew’s (SHSA). (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

SHSA is still focusing on preserving the church. “We worked hard to help TCGIS find alternative solutions. Now we will work harder to ensure the former St. Andrew’s is not demolished,” remarked Youngquist. “We are moving onto the next phase which includes among other things, local historic designation.”

SHSA has raised over $7,500 of its $10,000 goal through a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the first step in the preservation process.

Pros and cons of the CLS site
Built in the 1950s, the Central Lutheran School site sits on 3.4 acres and offers fields and playground space on the full city block. It has approximately 27,000 square feet of classroom space, with 16 available classrooms. TCGIS needs about 35 classrooms and approximately 75,000 square feet to house its projected 600 students.

According to a section of the school’s website designated specifically to the building project, TCGIS considered operating a split campus until the Como Ave. location sold and then having a single K-8 campus. However, school officials reported that operating a split campus was financially unaffordable without increasing class sizes, and could only be sustained for 2-3 years due to the projected maintenance costs associated with owning multiple old buildings.

Benefits of the site included its size, which would provide a buffer the school currently lacks between its playground and adjacent homes, along with enough green space for a regulation athletic field.

TCGIS would have space to build on the site, as well.

Operating a split campus was projected to increase TCGIS’s operating expenses by approximately $175,000 annually.

The school has a goal of keeping class sizes at 24 students. Temporarily increasing class sizes from 24 to 25/26 kids until the school was back together on one location was presented as one way to make this option work.

However, school officials expressed concern that the Como Ave. site might not sell and then the school would need to pay for both locations. Additionally, if the school moved, TCGIS would be required to pay an early bond payoff penalty.

Building a brand new facility at the CLS site would cost an estimated $15-17 million, while selling the current Como Ave. site would bring in an estimated $8.5 million, according to school officials. The school’s bond capacity is estimated at $15.2 million.

During the Monday night meeting, board member Julie Alkatout shared information from the 300 people who responded to an online survey.

“Como is the preferred option for TCGIS staff and parents,” she stated.

According to Alkatout, the majority of the 28 staff who responded supported rebuilding at the Como site. Of parents who responded, 64% supported the Como option.

The results from the seven students who responded were split, with slightly more than half favoring the CLS site and the option of athletic fields.

The opinion of neighborhood residents depended on whether they were also affiliated with TCGIS. Those who are residents and also send their kids to TCGIS favored the Como option, while neighbors without kids strongly favored the CLS option.

Alkatout observed that many neighbors seemed motivated to respond because they had additional concerns beyond just preserving the church building, including concerns about traffic, noise, and parking.

Should the school be growing?
Some at the meeting discussed whether the school should be growing at this time, including board member Kristen Helling. She told fellow board members she thinks they should focus on how to retain teachers before adding additional students.

TCGIS parent Aaron Gjerde also questioned whether growing larger fit with the school’s strategic mission. He supported operating a split campus at Central Lutheran to take more time on this issue.
“We don’t make good long-term decisions when we are trapped by time,” he pointed out.
School board member Dianne Bell disagreed. “I think the space need is something we have to address,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

“Doing nothing perpetuates spaces and situations that prevent teachers from doing fabulous work,” stated board member Stephanie Forslund.

School officials contend that the gym in the former church sanctuary is dangerous with its marble pillars and lower-wall coverings. Several children were injured at the end of the last school year, included one who required stitches after running into a protruding corner.

The school also has trouble finding space for special education needs.

TCGIS intends to tear down the former church building and replace it with a slightly larger, three-level structure with six additional classrooms, a gym large enough for two sections to operate at one time, additional office/special education spaces and a cafeteria.

Alkatout agreed that the St. Andrew’s Church structure was unique in part because it was designed by well-known Twin Cities’ architect Charles Hausler. But she said people could find his work elsewhere in the area.

“The TCGIS board member contention that Hausler’s legacy will live on in other structures in the Twin Cities represents a lack of empathy and understanding of its value to the community and historically,” remarked Youngquist. “This mindset is how historic buildings are torn down without any consideration for the long-term impact.

She added, “Preserving irreplaceable historic resources is the right thing to do, especially when other options were viable. Through our outreach efforts over the past few months, we have found that the vast majority of the public agree that history matters and should be respected. The District 10 Community Plan and Saint Paul’s Comprehensive Plan reflect this public value.”

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