By Scott Carlson
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 do not merit an environmental impact review, according to the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development.
The city’s decision to reject a request for an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) of the German Immersion School’s expansion plans is a setback for the neighborhood group, Save Historic St. Andrew’s (SHSA), which argues the former church is a historic structure and should be spared from the wrecking ball.
In a report dated April 9, PED director Bruce Corrie said the German school’s proposed addition did not meet the state’s mandatory standards for EAW reviews and “the proposed project does not have the potential for significant environmental effects.” Corrie added, “No additional environmental studies are planned nor needed to evaluate environmental effect of the proposed project.”
The EAW petition was “an abuse of the public governance process and a complete waste of taxpayer’s dollars,” contended Sam Walling, chairman of the TCGIS board of directors.
“With this sham petition, SHSA supporters have demonstrated again that they will do anything to delay the building of our project, which will benefit public school kids by giving them an appropriate learning environment that is designed for education,” Walling said in a statement. “We are gratified that the City of St. Paul saw through this absurd ploy, and we look forward to the City Council approving our project in the near future.”
Despite Corrie’s report, whether the former church ultimately is designated a historic structure and, therefore, spared demolition is an open question.
Denis Gardner, the National Register historian at the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office recently concluded the former St. Andrew’s Church is worthy of historic designation due to its unique architecture.
“Its Romanesque Revival design is locally distinctive when contrasted with other churches employing the style,” Gardner said. “The complexity of the design is revealed in its many architectural embellishments, several of which make for an unusual design vocabulary.”
After its review, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office said, “If a National Register nomination for St. Andrew’s Catholic Church was presented to the State Historic Preservation Review Board, the SHPO believes that body would approve listing of the building in the National Register and vote to forward the nomination to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. The Keeper makes final determinations, and it is the SHPO’s view that the Keeper’s Office would conclude that the church, at a minimum, is eligible for National Register listing for its architecture.”
SHSA member Bonnie Youngquist said the SHPO’s letter “was good news for anyone who values St. Paul’s architectural legacy. While this does not limit interior alterations, which the owner is free to do, it may make the building eligible for grants and other sources of funding.”
In early November, St. Paul’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) sided with SHSA , contending the old church building is eligible for historic designation.
“If the City Council determines that the [church] building should be designated a local preservation site and acts accordingly, the City will have the authority to determine the need for and impose reasonable mitigation [to alter the building] or deny permission to demolish the building,” Corrie said in his report.