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TCGIS neighbors want community ‘anchor’ to remain

Posted on 07 May 2018 by Calvin

School discusses razing former St. Andrew’s church building and constructing more efficient and larger building

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) neighbors are concerned that the school has already made up its mind about razing the old St. Andrew’s Church building at 1031 Como Ave., and is moving with a sense of urgency on the project that may not be necessary

“I’m very opposed to the possibility that the church could be razed,” stated Muriel Gubasta during a community meeting on Apr. 9. She attended grade school at St. Andrew’s, along with all six of her children.

Gubasta thanked school staff for holding the informational meeting, and stated, “I’m very happy to see this as a school.”

Photo right: About 100 people attended an informational session in the former church building that the school uses as a cafeteria and gym space. A majority of those present raised their hands to let school representatives know they were neighbors. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

But she encouraged the TCGIS to take its time making a decision and not rush into anything. “Let’s not rush to failure,” Gubasta said. “You have a lot of people here who really love this beautiful space.”

Fellow neighborhood resident Kate Konkel agreed and pointed out that TCGIS isn’t the first school to operate in the space. In fact, it was preceded by the French Immersion School, which was only there a few years.

“The history of schools in this area has been transient,” Konkel said. “This building is very much a part of this neighborhood and the history of St. Paul.”

According to TCGIS Facilities Committee Chair Nic Ludwig, “We’re not set in stone. The board has not approved any of this. This is the first of hopefully many listening sessions.” Ludwig pointed out that he spends time every day considering the issues around tearing down or keeping the existing Byzantine-Romanesque structure built in 1927.

However, Ludwig observed that the school board could vote on this issue within the next few months to keep with a schedule that opens the new space for the 2019-2020 school year.

Photo left: TCGIS Facilities Committee Chair Nic Ludwig (front) and finance chair Sam Wallig explain the choices driving the school during a community meeting on Apr. 9. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Residents were concerned that this doesn’t give them much time to investigate options, such as raising money to save the former church building.

A space crunch
When the tuition-free, K-8 German Immersion School moved to its current location in the fall of 2005, organizers planned for three sections in grades K-4 and two sections in grades 5-8. Based on the lack of attrition at the school, planners are working to figure out how to expand to three sections for grades 5-8 for a total projected student population of 613 in the 2021-22 school year.

The school began experiencing a space crunch this year.

“Teachers and students are already using hallways and other nooks,” pointed out Ludwig. Some teachers don’t get prep time because they are sharing their classrooms with other teachers. The kindergartners and first graders have gym in the cafeteria. The school has eliminated spaces such as the computer lab and plans to eliminate the boardroom/gathering room next year. Next, they’ll need to rotate students through lunch, but that will cut into the time that the space is also used for students to be active.

Planners project that the school needs four additional classrooms, two specialty spaces, four special education/student auxiliary spaces, five administration/staff spaces, gym space and a larger cafeteria for the 2019-2020 school year.

When some in attendance questioned how much of this was necessary, TCGIS Principal Ted Anderson stated, “We don’t spend a lot of time talking about our wants. We talk about our needs.”

Finance Committee Chair Sam Wallig pointed out that whereas St. Paul Public Schools typically received about $15,000 in funding per student, TCGIS receives $10,000. TCGIS is a public charter school, but it is not part of the St. Paul Public School district.

Number of students
Of the 560 students at TCGIS, 250 come from St. Paul, 50 from Roseville/Falcon Heights, and 130 from Minneapolis, so planners want to remain in the area they’re in. Plus, TCGIS is working with Central High School, which has added a German tract that is in its second year for TCGIS students to move into seamlessly.

Each year, the school receives more student applications than there is space for. Priority is given to siblings and students of staff, observed Anderson.

The school currently employs 80 full-time staff and nine part-time. This is projected to increase to 90 full-time and ten part-time.
Some attendees expressed their concern about the number of students at the school and stated that they don’t think this site can handle more.

Steve Green, a neighborhood resident since 1983 and a former member of St. Andrew’s, said, “I’m opposed to your expansion.” He cited existing traffic problems that will get worse with more students. He encouraged TCGIS to put a cap on enrollment where it is now.

“This is a beautiful building. It’s unique. It shouldn’t be torn down,” Green said.

Buy or lease?
The school’s facilities committee has spent the last year looking for space and has considered buying and leasing, which is expensive in the long-term. The spaces nearby are either too big or too small, according to Ludwig. TCGIS isn’t interested in having two campuses because of the duplicated administration costs.

The Mission Orthodox Presbyterian church across the street wasn’t interested in selling and plans to lease that space didn’t work out. The school is working with the city on the possibility of using parking at the nearby Como Pool.

As charter schools cannot own property, the current site is owned by the TCGIS Building Company. To purchase the site and renovate it, the building company issued $9 million in bonds that are paid by the lease payments the school makes. Bond payments are currently between $500,000 and $560,000 a year. The state of Minnesota pays up to 90% of the lease payments, up to $1,314 per pupil unit. A portion of the lease payments can be used to improve the building, and this fund currently has about $400,000.

Old buildings need work
The projected maintenance costs at the former church building, or the Aula, are estimated to be $1,195,000 over the next seven to 10 years, while the classroom building needs about $535,000.

Photo left: To solve its space needs, the Twin Cities German Immersion School has considered a variety of options, including tearing down the existing Byzantine-Romanesque structure built in 1927. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The long-term maintenance needed on the former church building includes: a boiler ($120,000), water heaters ($20,000), windows/doors ($75,000), roof ($500-750,000), masonry ($120,000), sound dampening ($10,000), and an optional sprinkler system ($100,000).

Items at the classroom building include: a boiler ($120,000), asbestos in the boiler room ($40,000), unit heaters and thermostats ($65,000), water heater ($10,000), roof ($150,000), south windows ($65,000), north windows ($65,000), and entry doors ($20,000).

Spread over seven years, the annual cost of maintenance is $250,000. That will consume most of the surplus—which is $260,000 this year, pointed out finance chair Sam Wallig.

The school’s growth may support a new bond issuance, but the school can’t support the projected maintenance costs plus additional bonds, said Wallig. The school could restrict enrollment to two sections per grade, but that wouldn’t be enough to pay the maintenance costs and make the bond payments.

If the school doesn’t build and offers three sections, programming will suffer from lack of classroom space and the maintenance costs of the Aula, according to Ludwig.

A new building
The proposed three-story, 20,600-square-foot-addition built on the site of the Aula would have two gyms on the first floor. The second floor would house classrooms.

A phase two addition on the east side would add a total of 23,150 square feet on three levels.

The project cost is an estimated $5.7 million. Ludwig pointed out that project costs will go up if the school waits.

The next steps are to meet with staff and user groups to develop a schematic design, and to create a construction plan, while also completing a bond underwriter review.

District 10 Community Council’s Land Use Committee anticipated hearing about the project at its May meeting, and from there it will need to go to the city council.

An anchor
“This is an anchor place in this community,” pointed out Mary Burnison. “It’s more than a building.” She added, “It’s holistically, organically a part of this community.”

Ludwig responded that he has lived in the neighborhood for the past seven years. “I also like the church building,” he said.

However, school representatives have met with companies that have worked on this building in the past to figure out the scope of the work needed and to obtain quotes, and believe that it is more cost effective to raze the former church building.

Andy Ashton’s family moved to the neighborhood because of TCGIS, and his father-in-law attended school at St. Andrew’s. He pointed out that the building is important to his family, as well, but it is more important that the school stay in the neighborhood.

Some residents proposed keeping part of the church building, such as the facade, retaining the shell, or reusing pieces within a new structure. However, Ludwig noted that the existing footprint of the church building is not large enough to add the space needed.

Ninety-seven-year-old John Forliti’s dad began attending St. Andrew’s at age 14. Forliti is happy to see a school community active at the former church. “Whether people went to this church or not, it’s still an anchor,” he pointed out.

Upcoming meetings
Neighbors expressed a desire to be more involved in what happens at the school. They were encouraged to attend public board meetings and facilities committee meetings (second Thursdays at 6pm), which are posted on the school’s website.

 

Committee formed to save St. Andrew’s Church building

Editor’s Note: the following was received after deadline. Watch for more comprehensive coverage in the following months.

Neighbors in the Warrendale neighborhood of Como Park formed a neighbor-led ad hoc committee to prevent the demolition of the former St. Andrew’s Church. Demolition is being considered by the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS). The committee is circulating a petition calling for “the proposed plan for the St. Andrew’s Church Structure be delayed until June 2020.”

According to Bonnie Youngquist, the project delay would provide:
— Time to select 1-2 architects to review the needs of the school and offer alternative solutions and estimates
— Obtain expert advice from Thomas Zahn, former Preservation Planner for the City of St. Paul.
— Meet with Thomas Fischer, UMN professor, Director of the Minnesota Design Center, and Dayton Hudson Chair in Urban Design
— Time to get a second opinion on the condition of the Aula roof and provide an additional cost estimate for maintenance
— Generate alternative solutions not previously considered
— Time to determine whether or not a historical designation is feasible.

The committee says that they aim to connect community stakeholders to create a viable solution for both the Warrendale neighborhood and TCGIS as they develop their expansion proposal. Neighbors say that they have been working with the school to resolve issues, but there is still much to be done even at the current size. Neighborhood concerns include parking, noise, traffic flow, bike and pedestrian safety, etc.

Built in 1927, St. Andrew’s Church is a Romanesque building is listed as a “Site of Major Significance” in the 1983 Historic Resources Survey (the most recent completed for the neighborhood). The structure has a designation in Larry Millet’s “American Institute of Architecture’s Guide to the Twin Cities” as, “one of St. Paul’s best Period revival churches.”

“The former St. Andrew’s Church is a historic structure that has served as a meaningful community anchor and a visible symbol of the stability of the surrounding neighborhood for nearly a century,” according to neighbor Mary Burnison.

According to the committee, the proposed demolition of this building also does not support the District 10 Community Plan.

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