German School project on hold for EAW review
By Scott Carlson
The Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) will have to wait longer to see if it can proceed with razing its current facility – the former St. Andrew’s Church- and replace it with a new building.
The St. Paul City Council in early March postponed voting on whether to approve some variances for the school’s building plans until its planning department completes an Environmental Assessment Worksheet [EAW] to determine if the project warrants a full environmental impact statement.
The neighborhood citizen group Save Historic St. Andrew’s (SHSA) earlier this month petitioned the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to conduct an EAW. “We filed an EAW because the TCGIS project will result in an increase of net carbon emissions as a result of demolishing St. Andrew’s and building a new gym and classrooms, rather than repurposing the structure.,” said Bonnie Youngquist, a leader with SHSA. “Simple embodied energy calculation provided by city officials suggested over 2,000 tons would be taken to landfills, not to mention the fossil fuel use, the smell of diesel fuel and oil, road damage, traffic, and air quality impact from heavy construction and demolition in a small area surrounded by dozens of private homes.”
Youngquist added, “The purpose of an EAW is to collect information about the likelihood of significant environmental effects and how they can be avoided or mitigated. The Saint Paul Planning and Economic Department has up to 30 days to decide if an EAW will happen or not.”
But Sam Walling, chairman of the TCGIS board, blasted the SHSA’s EAW petition as “another blatant abuse of the public planning process that again reveals the un-neighborly selfishness of a few NIMBY [Not in my backyard] ‘neighborhood activists’ who would preserve an old building it doesn’t own, literally at the expense of educating public school kids.
“This is the same group that has filed a petition for historic designation over the school’s objection and without notifying the school; filed a lawsuit against the school without notifying the school,” Walling said. He added that SHSA also “opposed the school’s site plan and variance requests at every committee and commission despite the review and approval of professional City staff, then appealed the school’s site plan and variance requests to the City Council,”
Walling concluded, “They [SHSA] have also filed two labor-intensive and costly requests for documents pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. More egregiously, they have threatened TCGIS students twice on their social media pages, for which they have yet to publicly apologize. Hopefully public officials will see through these actions for what they are and move forward with educating kids in an appropriate modern environment by approving our renovation.”
But SHSA leaders left little doubt they also unhappy with TCGIS leaders. “We have appealed to TCGIS to protect and adaptively reuse the former St. Andrew’s church, but the board has refused to consider any option to save the building repeatedly,” Youngquist said. “TCGIS leadership has also failed to address the impact the loss of an irreplaceable historic structure and neighborhood landmark like St. Andrew’s would have on the Warrendale area.”
Youngquist contended that state law requires an EAW for a demolition project like St. Andrew’s with a historic eligibility determination pending. St. Paul’s Heritage Commission voted by 9-1 to confer historic designation on St. Andrew’s.