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Neighbors ask St. Paul to declare former St. Andrew’s a historic building

November 6, 2018 GMT

Neighbors seeking to save the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church from the wrecking ball took their pleas to the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission on Monday in the hope of having the building designated as a historic site.

The Twin Cities German Immersion School, which bought the church in 2013 and has been using it as a cafeteria, gymnasium and performance space, is seeking to replace the 1927 building with an 18,000-square-foot addition that school leaders say will be better for their growing student body. St. Andrew’s closed in 2011, when the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis merged its parish with a neighboring church.

The board of the public charter school voted in July to raze the building after considering other options, such as buying a neighboring school. Officials say the old building, which has been extensively remodeled inside, is inefficient and would be too expensive to maintain.

A group of neighbors, however, is hoping that the church will be saved if the city designates the building as historic. Before Monday’s meeting at St. Paul City Hall, demolition opponents said it should be saved, in part, because of the historic significance of the man who designed it. Charles Hausler, St. Paul’s first city architect, designed St. Andrew’s and several other St. Paul buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

If the commission recommends historic designation, and the city’s Planning Commission determines it meets the criteria, the question would go to the City Council for a vote. School officials are planning to begin work on the school expansion next May.

The historic designation effort highlights the church building’s distinctive Romanesque Revival characteristics.

Minnesota’s only German-immersion school has seen explosive growth since it started with just 46 students in 2005. It now enrolls more than 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and the school anticipates 100 more in the future. Without a new facility, officials said, they not only would be forced to shoehorn students into spaces that weren’t designed as classrooms, but they could wind up pushing families away. Keeping the church space would require spending about $1.2 million on a long list of repairs, including replacing the boiler, windows, doors and terra-cotta roof.

The addition, which will be built on the same footprint as the church, would cost an estimated $4 million and allow the school to better serve three 24-student sections per grade, school officials said.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428