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TCGIS denies request by 600 petitioners to delay building project

Posted on 12 June 2018 by Calvin

But, board postponed final vote for demolition to pursue ‘real estate opportunity’

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
The Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) has denied the request of 600 petitioners to wait for an expansion until June 2020. Instead, the board is moving forward with its plans to demolish the former St. Andrew’s Church building and construct a new building on the site.

Board members considered the petition from neighbors and the group Save Historic St. Andrew’s (SHSA) during its May 23 meeting, but the majority voted to deny the delay.

However, during a call for a vote to approve the proposed building and demolition plan, TCGIS Facilities Committee Chair Nic Ludwig requested that additional time be granted him to pursue a “real estate opportunity” related to the proposed expansion of the school.

“The board voted to postpone taking official action, which SHSA sees as a positive step toward saving an iconic, historic structure of significant importance to many in St. Paul,” stated SHSA founder Teri Alberico.

Plan to raze Aula, replace with a larger structure
The school facilities committee is made up of volunteers with experience in architecture, structural engineering, and city planning. Members also include school staff and teachers.

Photo right: The Twin Cities German Immersion School Board is deciding the fate of the St. Andrews Church building. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

After a year of study, the facilities committee presented the option of tearing down the existing church building, called the Aula, and building a new facility for use starting with the 2019-2020 school year.

A listening session for neighbors was held on Apr. 9 and neighbors were told that the school did not have anything set in stone and that this was the first of many listening sessions.

Residents had expressed concern that this timeline didn’t give them much time to investigate options, such as raising money to save the former church building.

Among the options studied by the facilities committee were leasing space, splitting campuses, reducing class sizes, and purchasing property.

However, a study of various alternatives concluded that replacing the 1927 Aula with a new, three-level structure is more cost effective than retrofitting the existing Byzantine-Romanesque structure. The project is estimated to cost $5.7 million. The existing structure needs an estimated $1.2 million in repairs and upgrades, including a new roof, boiler, windows, doors, insulation, and tuck-pointing.

According to a memo distributed at the board meeting, the facilities and finance committees do not support preserving the Aula because “it is inadequate for the school’s educational needs.”

Specifically, the Aula cannot house a gym large enough for two sections to operate at one time. Nor is there room for six additional classrooms, additional office space, special education spaces, and a cafeteria.

“Delaying the building project by a year will not change the fact that the Aula cannot provide the educational or professional space that the school’s students and teachers need, in order to provide the best learning environment possible,” stated the memo.

The facilities and finance committees believe that the cons to delaying the project include: higher interest rates, higher construction costs, and paying for the cost of the Aula’s operations and repairs for another year.

Plus, there’s the programming impact for teachers and kids who use the gym, cafeteria and specialty classes, and as well continued uncertainty for families and staff about the future plans of the school.

The committee is also concerned that the historic designation process may play out in a way that is harmful to the school, according to a facilities committee report from its May 8 meeting.

600 petitioners
Save Historic St. Andrew’s collected 600 signatures from neighbors and others concerned about the proposed expansion at the TCGIS.

The petition points out that an increase in the number of students at TCGIS would magnify the existing issues at the school site including inadequate off-street parking for staff and visitors.

Calling the former church a meaningful anchor and visible symbol of stability to its surrounding neighbors for over a century, the petition notes that this structure has historic significance worthy of historical preservation status.

As “TCGIS seeks to be a responsible neighborhood partner, committed to the welfare of its neighborhood community,” and “a delay in the current planning schedule will provide for important input from the surrounding community,” petitioners requested that the proposed plan for the St. Andrew’s Church Structure be delayed until June 2020.