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TCGIS likely to tear down former St. Andrew’s Church

Posted on 10 April 2018 by Calvin

The church closed in 2011, and the building has been used by the school since 2013 as an auditorium and gymnasium

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
The Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) is likely to tear down the former St. Andrew church building and replace it with a new addition.

Photo left: AThe former church building needs at least $1.2 million in repairs and upgrades, including a new roof, boiler, windows, doors, insulation, and tuck-pointing. (Photo submitted)

The school has been evaluating solutions to its space needs for about a year as it realized it was outgrowing the buildings on site.

When the school moved to 1031 Como Ave. in 2013, it added a building to connect the existing classrooms and church, and converted the former church sanctuary into a multi-purpose gym and auditorium. The updated space is referred to as Aula or the auditorium.

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. That building needs at least $1.2 million in repairs and upgrades, including a new roof, boiler, windows, doors, insulation, and tuck-pointing.

The school’s facilities task force also explored the possibilities of renting space across the street in the long-term and acquiring the Mission Orthodox Presbyterian church property, neither of which proved possible. Members also studied moving into other school buildings.

Loss of Aula ‘not taken lightly’
Although she says she will miss the Aula, TCGIS school parent Linda Alhaus says that the removal of the Aula to construct a new building designed explicitly for TCGIS students seems to be the most logical option.

Illustration right: A very preliminary sketch of the possible expanded Twin Cities German Immersion School campus. (Graphic submitted)

“The loss of the Aula is not taken lightly,” remarked Alhaus, who lives in Minneapolis. “I love that building and have many pictures of my children in front of it. I’m slowly coming around to the idea that spending over a million dollars in the next couple of years to save a building that is not energy efficient doesn’t make sense.”

She added, “Adding a third layer in that footprint is a better option than giving up treasured outdoor space.”

School leaders began meeting with potential contractors in March and intend to lock in plans within a month, begin construction in summer 2019, and finish by the end of that year.

At an estimated $4 million, the new addition will have about 23,000 square feet on three levels, and would offer space designed specifically as a gymnasium and cafeteria. It also is likely to add eight classrooms and additional office space.

The plan does not significantly increase the existing building footprint.

According to the District 10 website, plans initially included purchasing the single-family house at 1042 Van Slyke, tearing it down, and using the lot for “outdoor space” or additional off-street parking. Facility Chair Nic Ludwig, the parent of two TCGIS students and a seven-year resident of the neighborhood, told District 10 on March 28 that the school has since cancelled that contingent purchase agreement.

Photo left: The preliminary plan also called for replacing a parking lot with possible green space. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The plan also included examining the possibility of using the Como Pool parking lot for staff parking. The pool option would need city approval, but could reduce the need for parking lots adjacent to the school and nearby homes.

After District 10 posted the plans to their Facebook page, a discussion began with opinions ranging from a desire to keep the old church building to a recognition that the school needs more space.

“I understand the local community appreciates the beauty of the building, as do I,” said Alhaus. “We are a public school, with a public school budget, so we have to be mindful of making smart financial decisions. Our utmost priority is educating students and making decisions that are in the best interest of these students.”

School over capacity
Now in its fifth year on the Como Ave. site, TCGIS is experiencing its first year of being over its designed capacity, according to TCGIS Executive Director Ted Anderson.

The Como Ave. site was built for 23 individual class sections and 560 pupils. This year, the school has 24 class sections and more than 525 pupils. TCGIS projects enrollment to top out between 615 and 630 in the next three to four years.

The tuition-free, K-8 German Immersion School opened its doors in the fall of 2005, and moved its 370 students to the former St. Andrew’s church and parochial site in 2013. The St. Paul parish had closed in 2011, and its convent and rectory were demolished.

“Our need is to create space for both current programs and a very defined increase in enrollment—from our current level of roughly 550 to our projected capacity of 615-630,” said Anderson. “We are not adding any grade levels.”

TCGIS intends to add three additional sections in grades 6-8, but the school is not expanding beyond three classes per grade. Nearly all of the new students at TCGIS are kindergarteners.

Anderson says the growth is primarily the result of unusually high retention rates; in other words, once families enroll in the school, they don’t leave.

TCGIS is a public school, but it is not part of St. Paul Public Schools.

“While TCGIS serves students from throughout the Twin Cities, around 250 are St. Paul residents. Add Falcon Heights and Roseville and over 300 of our kids come from pretty close by,” pointed out Ludwig. “Around 130 kids are from Minneapolis.”

Upcoming meetings planned
“As they consider how to accommodate the growing number of interested students,” said Ward 5 Council Member Amy Brendmoen (photo left provided), who lives nearby, “we must work together and wade through the complex issues involved. I’ll be listening and working closely with my neighbors and members of the school community to help find a mutually beneficial solution.”

Her office has received calls from citizens regarding the proposal to tear down the church.

“In addition to concern about the loss of the church building, there are concerns about growth in the school including noise and increased car traffic during drop-off and pick-up times,” she pointed out.

District 10 Community Council’s Land Use Committee anticipated hearing about the project at its Wed., May 2, 7pm meeting. Check the District 10 website for further details.

“I believe we can find a mutually beneficial solution to the school’s space needs if both neighbors and the school are willing to work together,” stated Brendmoen.