St. Paul school will demolish historic church after group fails to raise $2 million

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A St. Paul charter school will soon begin demolition of a 92-year-old church after an appellate court denied a waiver of bond request filed by a preservationist group to save the building.

The group, “Save Historic St. Andrew’s,” was working to keep Twin Cities German Immersion School, the owners of the former church building, from tearing it down as part of its expansion plan.

Twin Cities German Immersion School is a public charter school for K-8 students that plans to expand and modernize the school’s facilities using the current St. Andrew’s church building space. The school initially bought the church and its attached school building from the archdiocese.

Save Historic St. Andrew’s initially sued the school to prevent them from replacing the building under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which prevents destruction of historical resources if there is a feasible alternative.

Tuesday’s ruling affirmed the Ramsey County District Court ruling that required a nearly $2 million bond to delay construction of the project on the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act claim.

Save Historic St. Andrew’s did not submit the bond before Tuesday’s extended 3:30 p.m. deadline.

“We are gratified that the appeals court supports the value of educating children for the public good and for the future,” said TCGIS Board Chair Julie Alkatout in a release. “We are happy this long, financially and emotionally draining process has come to an end. We can now begin the healing process with all community members in the Warrendale neighborhood.”

According to a TCGIS spokesperson, demolition of the building will commence once the city issues the permit. They described the timeframe as “imminent.”

The negotiations between the school and the preservation group picked up in May of this year when the St. Paul City Council ordered the two groups back to the negotiating table over the building. It was after that when Save Historic St. Andrew’s filed the injunction.

Save Historic St. Andrew's released the following statement Tuesday evening:

We are profoundly saddened by today's ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals that left standing the district court order requiring a $1.9 million bond as a condition for preventing the demolition of the beloved and historic St. Andrew's church.

Not only was the bond amount required by the court wildly disproportionate to the potential damages that Twin Cities German Immersion School might suffer from the delay caused by a trial, imposing such a draconian burden on a neighborhood group like ours effectively robs citizens of the ability to take action on behalf of the state to protect our environmental and cultural resources, the very remedy that the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act was designed to provide.

We are heartened that the district court held that we would have likely prevailed at trial in establishing that St. Andrew's church was entitled to historic protection, a clear rebuke of the St. Paul City Council's decision to deny local historic designation at its June 5th hearing. However, that victory is little solace given that the court's bond ruling effectively denied SHSA the chance to prevail on the merits at trial. 

Seeking recourse through the judicial system was never the choice Save Historic St. Andrew's wanted to pursue, but we were left with no other options when the German Immersion School made it clear at every step of the way that demolition was its only goal. 

We are grateful that the pro bono legal team led by Rick Duncan of Faegre Baker Daniels gave us the chance to fight this injustice when all of our other avenues had been exhausted.

Demolition of St. Andrew's will reverberate through the Como Warrendale community for many years to come. The school's claim that wiping out the heritage of the Italian and Hungarian immigrants who built this iconic church building is necessary for young children to immerse themselves in German language and culture will fall on deaf ears as the rancor caused by this unnecessary destruction lingers. That's often the result of a tragic outcome that is completely avoidable.

We are incredibly appreciative of the amazing support we received from neighbors, former parishioners of St. Andrew's, generous donors, volunteers, historic preservation groups, architectural historians, St. Paul Councilmember Jane Prince, the enlightened members of the City's Heritage Preservation Commission, and our legal team. 

That experience has made all of us involved with SHSA better people, and we will seek comfort in that heroic effort as we brace ourselves for the devastating loss of a beautiful building important to so many in our community and throughout St. Paul.