School Expects to Raze Old Church Building for Expansion
Wednesday, May 2, 2018 3:10 PM

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The former St. Andrew church building dates to 1927. The parish closed in 2011.
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A preliminary sketch of the expanded German Immersion School campus. (The school says it no longer plans to acquire the "new parking" lot in the upper left of this diagram.)

Twin Cities German Immersion School is likely to tear down the old St. Andrew church building and replace it with another addition – its second since moving into South Como in 2013. However, the school says it has canceled plans to purchase the house at 1042 Van Slyke and tear it down, also.

The charter school, at 1031 Como Ave., has been evaluating expansion options for months. It studied moving into other school buildings, leasing space, and purchasing the Mission Orthodox Presbyterian church property across the street.

But school board members told parents and staff on March 20 that replacing the former St. Andrew church – which it calls the Aula, or auditorium – is the most likely and cost-effective plan. School leaders intend to lock in plans within a month, begin construction in summer 2019, and finish by the end of that year.

Neighbors raise concerns, opposition
More than 125 people attended a District 10 Land Use Committee meeting on May 2 to hear and ask questions about the school's plans. City officials from zoning, planning, preservation, and finance also explained conditions and options that may come into play around parking, height, and other issues as the school develops actual construction details.

In recent weeks, the school's facilities committee also has been meeting with nearby residents to hear concerns about the impact of expansion. A group of residents and others, calling themselves Save Historic Saint Andrew's, asked the school on May 8 to delay its plans for a year. The group wants more time to explore options to demolishing the church building, including the possibility of having it officially designated as an historic structure. It is possible the school's board will vote on the expansion as soon as May 23. [The group asked the Como Community Council board on May 15 to support its moratorium request, but board members declined without having the issue first go through District 10's Land Use Committee.]

George Gause, who staffs Saint Paul's Heritage Preservation Commission, says the research required for historic designation is a formal process that can take up to a year. Historic designation can make a property eligible for financing to help preserve a structure. Financing includes the possibility of state grants and federal and state tax credits. Those credits, however, are seldom available or useful for nonprofits, such as the school's building corporation, Gause said at the May 2 meeting. He also said it is almost unheard of for a property to receive historic designation without consent of the owner.

Growing enrollment forces decision
The school needs to expand to handle enrollment that continues to exceed projections, says parent Nic Ludwig, who chairs the school’s facilities committee. The school now has 555 pupils in grades K-8. It projects enrollment of 613 within four years, but lacks space to handle additional class sections as children move into higher grades.

School director Ted Anderson says the unanticipated growth is caused mostly by unusually high retention rates; in other words, once families enroll in the school, they don’t leave. He says the goal is to provide enough space to handle three class sections in each grade (K-8). Based on a maximum class size of 72 per grade -- which is what Anderson says the school has pledged to parents -- that would cap enrollment at 648.

Church building needs extensive repairs
Parent Sam Walling, who chairs the school’s finance committee, says it would be too expensive and less efficient to retrofit the 1927 church building. That building needs at least $1.2 million in repairs and upgrades, including a new roof, boiler, windows, doors, insulation, and tuck-pointing. The proposed addition, he says, would give the school “a building designed for the 21st Century … not as worship space.”

The new addition contains about 23,000 square feet on three levels. It would have, for the first time, space designed specifically as a gymnasium and cafeteria. It also is likely to add eight classrooms and additional office space.

Keeping options open on parking
The construction plans presented to parents also included replacing the parking lot east of the church building with a play area and “green space” and 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.

Plans originally included purchasing the single-family house at 1042 Van Slyke, tearing it down, and using the lot for “outdoor space” or, if required by the city, additional off-street parking. Ludwig told District 10 on March 28 that the school has since cancelled that contingent purchase agreement.

Other schools also expanding
The German Immersion School plan is only one of several school expansions going on in Como:

  • Como Park Senior High School is in the second year of a three-year project that includes extensive renovations inside and outside the school, plus a 21,000-square-foot addition to its campus on Rose Ave.
  • Hmong College Prep Academy is in the final year of a project adding 98,000 square feet for classrooms and other academics on its Brewster Ave. campus. It also is adding 441 more parking spaces, an outdoor athletic field, and an 85,000-square-foot seasonal sports dome.
  • Great River School is building a 19,000-square-foot addition on Energy Park Drive. It expects the new space to be available for the 2018-2019 school year.
  • Metro Deaf School plans to purchase and renovate a new, larger location along Lexington Parkway, just north of Energy Park Drive. It intends to move from its current Brewster Ave. location in 2019.

Originally published on March 23, 2018. Most recently updated on May 16.

District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

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