The Twin Cities German Immersion School’s plans to raze its current building—the old St. Andrew’s Church—and replace it with a new 24,000-square-foot facility took a big step forward when the St. Paul City Council voted to not grant historic designation to the current structure.
That unanimous 5-0 vote on June 6 came even as a neighborhood preservation group called Save Historic St. Andrew’s (SHSA) filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court earlier in the week seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the officials at the German charter school from razing the building. Besides declining historic designation for the former St. Andrew’s Church, the City Council granted three variances and site plan approval for the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS)’s building proposal.
The school’s building plans have deeply divided the Como neighborhood. Some people accuse school officials of ignoring the neighborhood’s history while TCGIS supporters counter that the preservationists aren’t looking to the future and the needs of students. Whatever their stance, TCGIS board chairman Sam Walling, expressed hope that the school can move forward with its plans.
“The Council did the right thing in not sacrificing St. Paul’s future to preserve a small part of its past,” Walling said in a statement. “Hopefully, we can now move forward with our building project and focus on continuing to provide a thriving, academically successful public charter school option, which plays an important role in St. Paul’s future, and provides a real school choice to the families of St. Paul and the greater Twin Cities.”
Meanwhile, representatives for SHSA were disappointed by the City Council’s votes.
“We anticipated that the council would vote the way that they did, which is why litigation became the only option for us to stop demolition,” said Tom Goldstein, a SHSA spokesman. “We have hoped throughout the past year that the school would be willing to consider alternatives to demolition, but every attempt at starting such a process has been rebuffed.” A recent effort to mediate talks between the two sides have, to this point, failed.
Meanwhile, the fate of SHSA’s lawsuit was undetermined, at press time. The group is suing the German Immersion School under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) to prevent the demolition of 92-year-old former St. Andrew’s church. MERA protects cultural and historic resources from destruction and requires owners and developers to demonstrate that there are no feasible alternatives to demolition.
Designed by famed St. Paul municipal architect Charles Hausler, the former church is one of the city’s best Period Revival structures, the SHSA group says. “We absolutely believe there are alternatives other than demolition here, and we need more time to explore them,” Teri Alberico, president of the group and next-door neighbor to the school, said in a statement. “We owe this to our future. Once this structure is gone, it’s gone forever.”